By Ciara McEnenany | Community News Service
Environmental advocates across the state head into this year’s legislative session with the goal of updating Act 250 — Vermont’s land use and development law — to protect one of the state’s biggest natural resources: working forests.
Advocates believe the wide-ranging 1970 law doesn’t sufficiently regulate the impacts of large development on forest lands, causing mass forest fragmentation and loss, according to Jamey Fidel, forest and wildlife director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council, a nonprofit.
“There’s no real attention to whether there’s going to be any future role of that forest when the land is being developed, as well as (it) being available as working lands,” Fidel said. “Will they be able to provide habitat for wildlife (in addition to preserving timber sources)? So, this is a way of zooming out and saying, let’s focus on some good site design.”
In the last decade Vermont has lost up to 10,000 acres per year of its forests due to permanent development and suburban sprawl, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
“Our policies in Vermont haven’t caught up to this change in trajectory and trend,” said David Mears, executive director of Vermont Audubon Society, the conservation nonprofit focused on birds and their habitats. “There’s a couple of different ways in which we can lose these forests: They can be lost to permanent development, which is the worst-case scenario. Box stores, subdivisions and the like are a permanent loss of forest land as well.”
In the past environmental groups have tried getting multiple bills on the issue of forest fragmentation through the legislature, including last session’s H.606, which made it through the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott.
“The bill would have put us on a path to protecting 30% of Vermont’s landscape by 2030, 50% by 2050, including 10% of the state,” said Zack Porter, executive director of the activist group Standing Trees, which aims to protect and restore forests in New England.
“And (the bill would set) a goal for 10% of the state to be put into wild lands management,” Porter continued. “But 10% compared to the 3% (that is conserved) today would be a major step forward. We know we must do this if we want to keep the biodiversity that we have today and if we want to give a chance to the wildlife that were extirpated from Vermont years ago.”
Groups are working to push similar legislation this session. But a third of the Legislature is new, and environmental groups worry legislation will face roadblocks because fledgling lawmakers need to catch up on yearslong issues.
“I think it’s very important that everyone takes the time to really understand these issues because they’re complex and interconnected,” Mears said. “At the same time, we are looking at the housing shortage; we’re looking at the challenges of workforce development. Are (legislators) making sure we have enough people to fill the jobs in the state that are necessary in the natural resources and environmental fields?”
Advocates agree that meeting the needs of Vermont’s forests are crucial to meeting the state’s goals in combating climate change. Those goals are spelled out in the state’s climate action plan adopted in 2021, which looks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through measures that include forest management.
“All the different kinds of ecosystems play such an important role in storing and holding carbon,” Mears said. “They also serve as a source of resilience, a strategy for us for adapting to and responding to the impact of climate. Also, a vital importance to addressing the loss of wildlife and birds that we’ve been seeing over the past several decades.”
At this point, forest advocates are bullish on their chances of changing Act 250 this session and overcoming vetoes from Scott.
4 thoughts on “Act 250 in the crosshairs as environmental groups prioritize forest loss”
Such a conundrum. How will the environmentalists support solar and wind installations that will consume the 100,000 + acres they declare are needed to save us all from the non-existent global warming due to CO2/climate crisis??
Uh Oh. How are the climate evangelist and the environmental activist to sort out this conundrum?
The needs of the climate evangelists for solar and wind generation compete directly with the goals of the climate activist, to preserve the lands the climate evangelist wants. Without a doubt, the only folks that will like the outcome of this is the lawyers, who can look forward to years of litigation.
Of more concern is the demand that by 2050 fully half of Vermont land will be “conserved” for whatever that definition is. It’s an important definition- as it will effect every property owner in Vermont- and what their land may and may not be used for. Look to this legislature to screw things up, in the name of diversity, equity, fairness and plain old carbon- and they’ll look to us to pay for it….and more.
Nothing better then 2 leftist groups having a hissy fit with each other. Do they throw pronouns at each other or their vegan leftovers?
I know what to do. Lets just declare all of vermont to be a park. As people die, their homes are to be torn down and the land returned to nature. Oh, and best of all, we set up toll gates are every road on the state lines, charge anyone not already living here fee to come in, and fine them hundreds if they are not gone in three days. And if they drive an SUV, they have to pay double for everything. Triple if its a second trip to Vermont, and any trip after the second, they are declared to be a terrorist and exported to NY.
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