Public perspectives in Vermont (USA) of the social and cultural values of woods

Autumn colours in Vermont, USAThe aim of this work was to explore the ways in which people value trees and forests in Vermont, USA through a series of discussion groups and interviews.

Vermont is a rural state with a high percentage of forest cover. The quality of the environment was seen as very important to the people of Vermont. Forests were important to people on a personal basis as somewhere they could go to enjoy nature. There was also an awareness of the importance of forests in attracting money to the state through tourism. Vermont is known for the autumn colours of its forests. 

Why forests and trees are important to people

  • Forests and trees are important to the public in Vermont on a personal basis as a place to enjoy nature, recreational activities and escape from every day routine life. There was also awareness of the importance of forests in attracting money to the state and in contributing to Vermont’s distinct character.
  • In Vermont individuals sometimes spoke of how their parents had passed down knowledge and skills about the environment, although education generally was not a topic that was often raised.
  • Forests in Vermont were often described as ‘comforting’ and ‘reassuring’. Because forests in the state are so widespread the public seem to feel comfortable with using them and being in them.
  • What emerged from the discussion groups was the close relationship between people’s views of forests and trees and the wider sense of what it meant to live in Vermont and the quality of its landscape. People’s views on this subject did not stand apart from the larger dimensions of their everyday lives. Concerns about forests and trees were woven into other discourses on the development of areas and subsequent loss of forest cover and the changes of cultural identity within the state.
  • People’s views of timber production were different for public and private land. On private land, landowners were viewed as having the right to manage as they saw fit as long as there was no extensive clear cutting. On public land, recreation and public access, spiritual, aesthetic and well-being values were viewed as more important than timber production.

Some of the concerns expressed in the groups about the wider environment included a worry that the states distinct character would by changed by development and sprawl as the population increases.

People in the groups realised the quality of the environment of their state and outlined the contradictions between wanting progress, easy access to the facilities and amenities of modern life and the importance of conserving a particular way of life.


Discussion groups were held in six different locations within the state with people from different age groups and backgrounds. Vermont is a rural state with a small population. The forests cover in the state consists of:

  • Northern Hardwoods – consisting of beech, birch and maple that occur all over the state below two and a half thousand feet
  • Coniferous forests of spruce and fir at higher altitudes.

Map showing public lands and wilderness areas in Vermont, USA
Map of Vermont showing research locations and its location within the USA