My draft to the Tree Farmer of the Year –
Some neighbors worried when the Wildlife Foundation of Virginia planned timber harvests on Fulfillment Farm. They thought it might hurt the wildlife, but that was almost twenty years ago. Today, their experience shows that the harvests have been helpful to wildlife and improved the sustainable health of the mixed forest ecosystem that sits on almost 2000 acres near Esmont in Albemarle County. Jenny West, Executive Director of the Foundation, explains that the goal is conservation and that means that human interaction with nature is an integral part of the sustainable future, and that Fulfillment Farm encourages hunting, hiking and birdwatching along with regular timber harvest.
The Foundation harvests around 65 acres of timber each year. This means that a given piece of land is affected about once every thirty years, which is a good rotation time in Virginia. Of course, some areas are not harvested at all. Fulfillment Farm supports significant wetlands, both natural and manmade, that provide habitats for waterfowl while enhancing water quality and recharging aquifers.
A hike across Fulfillment Farm rewards the visitor with experiences of a variety of habitats and environments. It is clear even to a casual visitor that this was a working Farm not very long ago. There still are fields planed in row crops, but now they are for wildlife. Pasturelands are transitioning into mixed forests and it is a joy to experience the early succession, sycamores near the water giving way to yellow popular as you walk up the hills all showing the impatient vigor of the new forests. It is interesting to observe the persistence of the grassland ecosystem. Their thick roots will resist the trees for a little longer and much of the open area is managed to keep it open.
Fulfillment Farm features some very large oaks of many varieties native to Virginia. Near the gate is a massive, ancient southern red oak, for example. Many stand in park-like glory, in a wonderfully inviting landscape. The great conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote that that you can read past decisions on the land today and oaks in particular tell a story. We can see that in earlier times the landowners did some high grading, cutting the bigger and more valuable trees. Current land management is remedying this by opening small but significant areas to oak regeneration. Oak regeneration is important in Virginia today. As our forests mature, relatively shade intolerant oaks lose out to shade tolerant species. But oak regeneration is tricky since it requires a balance of shade and sun, i.e. not full sun that favors pine and not deep shade that favors maple or beech. There also needs to be oaks nearby to provide acorns, which tend not to fall too far from the tree. Fulfillment Farm has several areas that meet these conditions and oaks for the next century are growing and thriving.
We congratulate the Wildlife Foundation of Virginia on their winning the Virginia Tree Farmer of the Year honor. Fulfillment Farm is an excellent example of what a Virginia tree farm should be – a place that balances production of forest products with protection of water, improvement of soils, habitat for wildlife and natural beauty. The fact that it is open to the public offers a showcase for tree farm values. It is well worth the trip and taking the time to savor the variety.