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Our Forests Our Future: Forest Conservation in Northern Vermont

Last September, the Vermont Sierra Club launched the ambitious Our Forests, Our Future campaign. Our goal from the start was (and continues to be) the building of popular support for the establishment wildlife migration corridors connecting the northern Connecticut River with the Nulhegan Basin, the Basin to the northern Green Mountains, and the southern Green Mountains with our western border. 

Doing this will connect our core protected habitat areas. Furthermore, it will link our forests with those in the Adirondacks towards the west and the White Mountains and northern Maine to the east. The result of this historic task will be the generational protection of our animal and plant populations through the unification of the last great northeastern forests. We seek to build “resiliency” into Vermont’s natural environment.

This task was fostered upon the shoulders of the Vermont Sierra Club and other local environmentalists not out of fancy or fantasy, but in reaction to the very real and looming tragedies brought on us by climate change, industrial pollution, and irresponsible development.  In brief, we have a window to act, or we risk losing our forests and those Vermont traditions that count on a healthy ecosystem. In this, we seek to deliver to our children’s grandchildren a Vermont that would be recognizable to our Abenaki and Green Mountain Boy ancestors.

There are different ways to build wildlife corridors. Our method is one that may be unique to Vermont. We’re not trying to increase federal land acquisitions. We’re not actively asking the State to buy more land. We’re instead seeking to establish a mosaic of town owned conservation forests throughout our broad corridor regions. We’re doing this not only because we believe that Vermont lands should stay in the hands of Vermonters, but also because local ownership is the best way to foster accountability and good stewardship.

The ultimate use of these forests will largely be determined by local people at Town Meeting and Select Boards. Also, the democratically elected Executive Committee of the Vermont Sierra Club – after extensive consultations with our 3000 members – is advocating that these forests be used in creative ways that preserve our local ecosystems and bring direct social and economic benefits to the towns in which they are situated.

We contend that the forests must be open to all Vermonters for traditional outdoor uses such as hiking, camping, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, horseback riding, etc.  We also contend that Vermonters need to have the right to hunt and fish these lands and that these forests should be used by towns to provide free or cheap firewood for elderly and low income residents. In addition, we’re encouraging communities to consider using the forests for low impact cooperative activities like bucket and tap maple sugaring, as well as for educational purposes.

We understand that taking land out of private ownership reduces local tax revenue. Therefore, we support sustainable logging, in areas not deemed ecologically sensitive and as approved by the County Forester, as a means to create public revenue. Also, we respect that snowmobiling is an important recreational and economic element in some localities, and hence feel that towns should be able to have snow machine trails at their discretion.

All told, increasing town ownership of the forests will benefit both our environment and the local economy, while providing social benefits to area residents. But how do we build these new town forests? The Vermont Sierra Club recognizes that many small communities simply do not have the resources needed for large land purchases. We also are cognizant of the $175 million budget shortfall that the state is facing, and therefore we do not expect financial support from Montpelier at this time.

As a result, we’ve been advocating for the Federal Delegation to return resources to Vermont towns.  We’d like to see a return of some of our federal tax dollars for the procurement of town forests and for the purchase of additional conservation easements in identified migration corridors by land trust organizations.

By our accounting, if the federal government can spend over one trillion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they can certainly find a much more modest sum to help Vermont and the northeast preserve our forests.  Moreover, the Vermont Sierra Club will explore private funding, and state funding as the political and economic situation allows. 

The campaign to establish comprehensive migration corridors is a long term project, and will be achieved over years and even generations. Thus, we’ll start now by building a movement, and we’ll secure all possible funding for towns as opportunities are created. We’ve been actively engaging our supporters and our 3000 members across the state. We’ve begun to build local activist teams in the Northeast Kingdom, Central Vermont, Addison/Rutland Counties, and in southern Vermont. These teams have been distributing Our Forests, Our Future campaign pamphlets to the public, and they’ve been gathering signatures in support of town forests as a means to create migration corridors. We’ve also launched an online version of the petition, which can be reached at: http://bit.ly/giksoO. 

Let it also be said that the Vermont Sierra Club is not alone.  To date, the Our Forests, Our Future campaign has been officially endorsed by the Vermont Workers Center, the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe (Northeast Kingdom), and the Elnu Abenaki Tribe (southeast Vermont).

These partnerships are making all of our organizations stronger. Together, we’re forging a coalition that will be capable of winning comprehensive conservation and social justice for all Vermonters. It is our expectation that these partnerships will grow as we’re also presently engaged in discussions with many environmental groups, farmer organizations, the faith community, and sportsmen clubs. As we feel that the local forest initiative is in the best interest of Vermonters on many levels, we are confident that we’ll continue to build a large and diverse coalition of Vermonters in support of this historic campaign.          

*For More Information on the Our Forests, Our Future Campaign contact David Van Deusen, Vermont Sierra Club Field Organizer - 802-522-5812 or david.vandeusen@sierraclub.org

   
   

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