Douglas raises concerns over wilderness bill

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(Host) The Douglas Administration is raising concerns about a wilderness bill that would protect nearly 48,000 acres in Vermont.

The bill passed the Senate earlier this week and it has the unanimous support of the Congressional delegation. But Governor Jim Douglas says the bill overlooks the objections of some communities in the Green Mountain National Forest.

The state’s congressional delegation is not happy with the governor’s position.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The Senate bill passed unanimously. It would expand wilderness areas in both New Hampshire and Vermont national forests.

In the Green Mountain national forest, the number of acres under wilderness protection would grow from about 59,000 to 107,000. The new wilderness designation would mean about a quarter of the forest would be off limits to logging, development and use by all terrain vehicles.

But the Douglas Administration says the bill goes too far. The governor wasn’t available to talk about the issue. Jonathan Wood is commissioner of Forest Parks and Recreation.

(Wood) “Our main concern is that the bill calls for more wilderness designation than is called for in the forest plan, or that was really approved by the towns that will be most affected.”

(Dillon) Douglas has written about these concerns to Representative Richard Pombo, a California Republican who chairs the House resources Committee.

(Iarropino) “Clearly, if Douglas’s goal is to oppose wilderness, he’s picked the right ally.”

(Dillon) Anthony Iarropino is with the Conservation Law Foundation, a regional environmental group with offices in Montpelier

Representative Pombo is critic of the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws. The New England wilderness bill – even though it has support from New Hampshire Republicans – could be in trouble in Pombo’s committee.

(Iarropino) “I think the governor’s excuse is just a cover for his opposition to any more wilderness. The national forest belongs to all Vermonters and support for wilderness has been widespread across the state and has been well-expressed through five years of public process.”

(Dillon) But Forest Commissioner Wood says the administration wants more wilderness, just not as much as the bill creates. He says the legislation overrides the anti-wilderness opposition of some southern Vermont communities.

(Wood) “We support a wilderness bill. We just were hopeful that it would be reflective of the comments the governor provided and that we believe were well reflected in the process.”

(Dillon) On Thursday, Vermont’s congressional delegation fired back a response to Governor Douglas. The letter, signed by Congressman Bernie Sanders, and Senators Patrick Leahy and Jim Jeffords says they’re disappointed that Douglas has questioned the bill at this late date.

The delegation said that 10,000 Vermonters provided comments on the new forest management plan, and that the vast majority supported more wilderness.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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