When Christina and Marc Aquila sat down in their San Diego rental home to scour through home listings in southern Vermont in 2011, they were unaware of just how much their life was about to change.
Marc grew up on just over a tenth of an acre in the suburbs of New Haven. “We’d visit family around the Northeast and everyone else had a little more space, and I guess I wanted some of my own,” Marc says. "When we decided to move and some land was actually achievable, I jumped on it.”
In the first half of 2012, the couple found themselves in the midst of major life changes: moving across the country and purchasing 40 acres of forestland.
“We hadn’t owned land prior to living here, so we didn’t really know what to do,” Christina says. “Figuring out knowledge-wise where to turn for advice and suggestions and to make sure we’re doing the right things were very important from the beginning.”
The Aquilas quickly became aware of the support, professional advice and resources they would need if they were going to be good stewards of their land, but figuring out how to get started was a slow process. Over the first couple of years, Christina reached out to anyone and everyone who could possibly point her towards the right resources. She would pick up pieces of advice here or there, but this only brought about more questions. How were they going to pay for some of the work that needed to be done? Which activities would benefit their land in the future? What Christina really wanted was someone who could help her with a more long-term plan.
In the spring of 2017, the help she was looking for landed in her mailbox from the Woods, Wildlife and Warblers program. The program, which is a partnership between the American Forest Foundation, the Vermont Tree Farm Committee and Audubon Vermont, focuses on connecting southern Vermont woodland owners with the knowledge and resources they need to enhance wildlife habitat in their woods while accomplishing other woodland goals.
The couple quickly realized this was exactly what they had been looking for. Excited, they filled out the survey, which offered a free visit from a forester, and mailed it back.
A few weeks later, Travis Hart, a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) wildlife specialist, visited the Aquilas on behalf of the Woods, Wildlife and Warblers program. He and the Aquilas walked the land and discussed the couple’s goals. Travis also identified areas that were overrun by invasive plants such as common buckthorn.
With Travis’s help, the couple completed an NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) application for financial assistance to combat their invasive plants. Their application was quickly approved, and with that support, the family now plans to treat 34 acres of their 40-acre property, based on Travis’s recommendations, for the invasive species.
What’s more, the Woods, Wildlife and Warblers program continues to touch base with the Aquilas to share more information, helping them on their journey as forest owners. They even sent the Aquilas a set of Birder’s Dozen Cards to get them involved. The vibrant cards showcase a subset of Vermont’s 40 priority bird species, which the Aquila’s two young girls now use to spend hours peering out the window in hopes of seeing one of the special birds in their own yard.
With help from Woods, Wildlife and Warblers and natural resources professionals, the Aquilas continue to learn about their land and implement stewardships activities that will benefit their woods and the wildlife that call them home.
Christina credits Travis as being extremely informative and supportive.
“My biggest takeaway [from interacting with Travis] was how little I know and how much knowledge there is out there about it all,” Christina says. “There is much more I still have to learn about everything.”
The Aquilas hope to become part of the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), a program of the American Forest Foundation that holds landowners to high third-party standards to ensure the sustainable management of their lands.
Until then, Christina and the girls continue to enjoy their Birder’s Dozen Cards and the couple continues to plan exciting stewardship activities that will make their woods a haven for wildlife for generations to come.