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Vermont Landowners Create Oasis for Birds with Forest Management

Habitat-focused conservation work implemented through NRCS' Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)

Annette and Jeff Goyne live in Richford, Vermont, surrounded by the beauty and tranquility of 54 acres nestled in the foothills of the Horseshoe Range in Richford, Vermont. They have worked hard to cultivate a birder’s retreat and wildlife haven from what once was a 200-acre dairy and sugarbush. Their primary goal is to ensure a healthy ecosystem, especially for species of concern, such as migratory songbirds.

Their home sits atop a ten-acre hill. “On a clear day, we can see the Adirondack’s,” says Annette. Today, their land is primarily forested and over the span of 35 years, the Goynes partnered with several local, state, and federal conservation entities to achieve their conservation goals. “I have known this land for a long time, and it becomes a part of you,” explains Jeff. “I knew this land when it was a working small upland farm. I liked it then. I love it now.”

Carissa Stein, a Soil Conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) remarked on their efforts. “Annette and Jeff have a piece of property on which they maximized the habitat and production value. I see folks all the time that want to reach their level of conservation. They can look out their door and be at peace with what’s around them,” she said.  

The habitat-focused conservation work was implemented through Farm Bill programs including the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which promotes coordination between NRCS and conservation partners to deliver assistance to landowners. Under the 2014 Farm Bill, the Goynes participated in the Cold Hollow to Canada (CHC) Woodlots Program which was expanded under RCPP and added 50 landowners and 8,000 acres in Richford and Montgomery. This RCPP effort encouraged Vermont’s private forestland owners to manage wildlife habitat, find solutions for the effects of climate change, and develop ways to help forests adapt to changing conditions.

“We enjoy seeing this all take place, of course, but having conservation experts say you're doing something right creates a sense of peace and accomplishment in one's soul!” remarked Annette. “We hope it will inspire others to manage their land with wildlife and ecosystems in mind.”

The forest and wildlife habitat approach at the Goynes’ property included patch cuts, mast tree release (black cherry and yellow birch), early successional habitat development and brush hogging. “We have different habitats on our land and working with NRCS and the CHC Woodlots Program allowed us to enhance this,” explains Annette.  “We have two brooks that join on our property and flow downhill, and that area is shaded in woods, but then we have older fields that have goldenrod and then some areas with early successional growth.” She noted that as a birder and animal lover, conservation is important to them because it offers the chance to see varying species of animals, birds, and plants, and “enjoy the botany of our land.”

Jeff first moved to Vermont fifty years ago after reading a book about maple sugaring, and “fell in love with the state.” He says he and Annette have enjoyed their working relationship with NRCS and other conservation partners over the years, and said, “ when the conservationists come and visit our property we gain knowledge, and we learn, and the more experts you can learn from, the better.”

The Goynes are also very active in their local community and love sharing the results of their conservation success. Jeff has a cabin on the property where he spends time capturing his passion for the natural world through his writing. Annette is an avid birder, serves as Chair of the Richford Conservation Commission, and is an accomplished wildlife artist, with a focus on birds, of course! Carissa remembers her first visit to the Goyne property. “My first event for birding was at an elementary school in Richford and then a walk on the Goyne property, and when you are there, you are in birder heaven.”

The Goynes have hosted bird walks and bird counts at their homesite led by naturalist Bridget Butler (aka the Bird Diva). Jeff and Annette are some of my favorite people,” says Bridget. “In spending time with them, you see their property through both of their lenses and they have a very deep connection.”  Bridget reports that species spotted on the Goyne property include: Chestnut-sided Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, Scarlet Tananger, Veery, American Woodcock, Blue-headed Vireo, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and thirteen different species of warblers. 

As a former project lead for the CHC RCPP project in Richford, Bridget developed a relationship with Jeff and Annette and the other landowners within the project area. “The CHC effort was about building relationships, telling stories together, and bringing together leaders like the Goyne family,” she explains. “When I engage with landowners, my role is to listen to where they are coming from, and where they are at, and then facilitate the relationship with the land on a deeper level. We get wrapped up with conservation successes happening quickly and we forget about the relationship forming between people and the relationship with the land.” 

Annette and Bridget have also been active with Vermont eBird, a citizen-science project of Vermont Center for Ecostudies and the Vermont Atlas of Life.  This unique tool enables users to record the birds they see, track birding lists, explore maps and graphics, and share sightings. Nearly 9,000 birders in Vermont have uploaded reports representing all 385 species of birds ever reported in Vermont.  “Recently, I saw nine Red Crossbills on my way to work, simply pulling out of my driveway,” remarks Annette. “I had never seen them here on our property before, so I was able to add it to eBird.”

With nearly three-quarters of the land in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont in forestland, and over eighty percent of that land privately-owned, programs like RCPP, and ecologically-minded stewards like the Goynes, are critical for sustainability.  They have worked tirelessly to manage their land for the benefit of wildlife over the past 35 years, and now, they are sharing the results, and their passion, for conservation.