House Likely to Undo Core Ecological Reserve

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(Host) The House late Wednesday afternoon gave its preliminary approval to legislation that eliminates the state’s plan to create a core ecological reserve as part of the Champion land deal.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The House bill is essentially a rejection of the approach taken by the Senate earlier this year. At issue is whether or not logging should be allowed on all of the land owned by the state of Vermont.

In 1999, a deal was put together to purchase nearly 130,000 acres of forestland owned by Champion. Eighty-four thousand acres were purchased by a private timber company, 26,000 were bought by the federal government and the state of Vermont bought 22,000 acres.

The controversy over this issue developed when state officials created a 12,000-acre ecological reserve within its parcel to protect a number of habitat areas. While there are no restrictions on recreational uses in the core area, no logging would be allowed. It is the creation of this core reserve that has angered a number of lawmakers.

They claim that when the Legislature appropriated almost $5 million to purchase the state’s parcel of land in 1999, there was never any discussion of restricting the use of these lands.

Barre Town Representative Tom Koch, who owns a camp in the Champion lands, says the issue concerns the credibility of state government:

(Koch) “And knowing what we know now, we can read between the lines and see that certain people had certain plans in their minds and they knew what they were going to do but they didn’t tell us. We were not told. It is not that we were not listening, it’s not that we did not understand. Information was withheld from the General Assembly when we were asked to appropriate $4.5 million dollars to help put this deal together, without which the deal would not have occurred.”

(Kinzel) But Middlesex Representative Henrietta Jordan argued it was clear during the 1999 legislative debate that one of the key priorities for the state was the preservation of critical habitat:

(Jordan) “The Legislature outlined three distinct goals. We did that knowing that all three goals were not necessarily compatible on the same parcel of land. We can’t both harvest trees and preserve the endangered species who live in them…. The grand scheme for Champion permitted and permits all of the uses but wisely they are compartmentalized in the areas for which they are most appropriate.”

(Kinzel) The legislation is expected to come up for final approval in the House on Thursday.

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

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