Vermont Officials Will Have Input On Wilderness Designation

Front Page / Dec. 25, 2003 12:00am EST

Vermont Officials Will Have Input On Wilderness Designation

Vermont officials have been assured they will be consulted before any new wilderness areas are designated in the Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF).

The Congressional delegation, which would introduce any wilderness bill in Congress, agreed Dec. 16 to consult with Gov. James Douglas and the State Board of National Forests before taking any such steps, according to Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, a member of that Board.

The consulting agreement, along with a closer relationship between the state and the National Forest, was hammered out in "a very good meeting" that covered several emerging issues, confirmed Ed Griffiths of the GMNF supervisor's office in Rutland.

As a partial result of the meeting, the State Board approved a Forest Service request to add 1400 acres to the GMNF.

Griffiths said the new acreage is mostly in small chunks spread out all over the Forest, in both the southern and the northern sections. There are no large additions to the Forest holdings in Rochester, Granville, or Hancock, he said.

The State Board of National Forests must approve additions to the national forests, and in recent years it has not raised many questions. At an earlier meeting of the Board, however, the Douglas administration signaled a new activism and questioned whether new acreage should be added when the Forest is not managing some of the land it already holds, as anticipated in the 1986 Forest plan.

Before signing off on the 1400 acres of additional Forest, the Vermont officials last week obtained what Dubie called "a new working relationship between Vermont and the Forest Service, to help ensure that Vermonters have a voice."

The officials also moved to give Vermont state government a larger role in what new wilderness areas are approved. The Wilderness Association has proposed adding almost 80,000 acres of official wilderness, where road access, mechanized vehicles, and logging are not allowed. Some 15,000 acres of the new wilderness would be in Rochester, Hancock and Granville, and officials there have said there is opposition to that.

According to Dubie, the Congressional delegation "will now consult" with state officials "before designating new wilderness areas in the Forest." Congressional officials also agreed that a new wilderness designation "will happen in context of the Forest Plan that is now being developed by the GMNF," he said.

Local officials and Gov. Douglas have called for the Congressional offices to wait for the Forest Plan to be complete before filing legislation to designate new wilderness.

The Congressional delegation did not make a firm commitment in that regard but have agreed to keep communications open, according to Griffiths at the GMNF office.

"We're back at the table and we'll meet again in a couple of months," he said. "It was a unanimous vote. Everyone's feeling really good about it."

By M. D. Drysdale

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