Officials release draft plan for national forest management

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(Host) A draft plan for the Green Mountain National Forest recommends additional wilderness protection and allows all-terrain vehicles to use some public land. The document also sets out timber management goals for the 400,000 acre forest.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Probably the most closely watched part of the plan concerns wilderness protection. Only Congress can create wilderness areas. So environmental groups had hoped the plan would ask Congress to set aside 79,000 acres, or about 20 percent of the forest as wilderness. The plan released this week suggests instead that Congress protect 18,000 acres. The largest parcel – about 13,000 – would be a new wilderness area near Glastenbury in southern Vermont.

Paul Brewster is the supervisor of the Green Mountain National Forest. He says officials tried to strike a balance.

(Brewster) “The national forest cannot be everything to everyone on every acre. That’s just a plain and simple fact. Yet it can provide many, many different things to the public. We hope the public will see that as they study this plan and review it and comment on it over the next three months.”

(Dillon) The forest management plan is the document that guides how the land will be used for the next 10 to 15 years. The last time the plan was updated was in 1987, so the updated document involved years of work by Forest Service officials.

Although all-terrain vehicles were allowed in concept in the 1987 plan, no trails were ever constructed and the forest remained closed to ATVs. The new plan would change that. It says ATVs could use the public land as a corridor to link private trail networks.

That part of the plan is controversial as well. Brewster says officials followed the recommendation of an ATV collaborative group named by Governor Jim Douglas. But Jamey Fidel with the Vermont Natural Resources Council says it’s premature to develop ATV trails in the national forest. Fidel is also disappointed that the plan doesn’t recommend more wilderness.

(Fidel) “It’s not an either/or situation, in my opinion. There’s room for substantially more wilderness, a very healthy forest products industry, diverse recreational opportunities, wildlife habitat, maintenance deer wintering yard protections. All of that can be accomplished with more wilderness.”

(Dillon) Ed Larson works for the forest products industry in the Statehouse. He says national forest officials worked hard to listen to all sides.

(Larson) “We’re hopeful that as we move forward through this process that people recognize that there is room for everyone, that the interest that I’m representing, which is timber, timber management, get a better deal than what we had in the past. We want to have access to that timber that they’re trying to manage so well.”

(Dillon) The public will have until July 5 to comment on the plan. Officials expect the plan to be finalized by next February.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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