Bill Allows Recreation in Protected Champion Lands

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The controversy over the state’s management plan for the former Champion lands is growing at the Statehouse.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

In 1999, the Legislature gave its approval to a plan to help conserve roughly 132,000 acres of forestland in the Northeast Kingdom. Approximately 22,000 acres are owned by the state and the Agency of Natural Resources has been developing a management plan for much of this land.

The Agency has come under fire from several sportsmen’s groups because it has created a 12,000 acre parcel, known as the West Mountain Wildlife Management Area, that is intended to be an environmental preserve where logging would be prohibited.

Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin thinks the Agency has tried to unfairly restrict the use of the Champion lands. Shumlin has introduced legislation that calls on the General Assembly to review any management plans that are eventually developed by the Dean administration.

The bill would also authorize most outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking and trapping in all of the Champion lands:

(Shumlin) “I think the concern is that the Legislature made a promise to the sportspeople of this state when we bought that land that hunting, fishing, and traditional rights would always be preserve on that property¿. So I guess all we are saying is this: With my bill, the rights that the Legislature conferred when we purchased that land will be preserved forever¿and no administrator or bureaucrat can come forth with rules to preclude that activity from happening.”

Pat Berry of the Vermont Natural Resources Council is dismayed by Shumlin’s bill:

(Berry) “It flies in the face of the administrative authority to actually come up with a management plan. They spent over a million dollars, used the best science, the best ecologists, that the state has determined what the best way to use these lands were. And then to send it to the Legislature — a lot of whom want to use it for political gain — seems to be a pretty bad idea.”

The legislation will now be reviewed by the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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