Parker charges politics over policy on wilderness issue

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(Host) Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scudder Parker says Governor Jim Douglas is putting politics ahead of policy when it comes to wilderness.

But Douglas says he has been trying to balance the interests of environmentalists and those opposed to more wilderness.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Parker cites internal state documents that he says indicate top Administration officials had their eye on the political fall-out as they advised the governor on the wilderness issue.

(Parker) “What they show to me is that there is a predominance of political calculation in the decision making process rather than a clear assessment by the agency people who are in the leadership position providing guidance to the governor: What’s the best policy decision here? What’s the best science? What’s the best approach to take on this matter?”

(Dillon) In one internal email, then-Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Tom Torti wrote that the governor “may need help with his base” on the wilderness issue.

But Douglas says that the public records show that the staff tried to balance competing interests.

(Douglas) “It shows that there are many different points of views and concerns that need to be raised and considered in connection with the designation of more wilderness area: economic concerns, recreational interests, and of course those who are interested in more wilderness designation. It shows that my staff worked very, very hard to considered carefully all these different interests and weigh them in order to make a recommendation.”

(Dillon) The internal debate at the time was whether the administration would join in an appeal of a Forest Service plan that recommended additional wilderness.

The administration ultimately decided not to file an appeal. But it did intervene on behalf of groups that had challenged the wilderness proposal.

The documents indicate that administration staff members were providing legal research and advice to the anti-wilderness groups, such as the Vermont Traditions Coalition.

And then last month, Governor Douglas wrote to key Republicans in the U.S. House to tell them of his opposition to a bill that would create 48,000 acres of additional wilderness in the Green Mountain National Forest.

Douglas later agreed to a compromise that cut 6,000 acres of proposed wilderness.

But Parker says it’s part of a pattern of playing politics with the wilderness issue.

(Parker) “He in fact ended up agreeing with an offer of compromise that was proposed to him two weeks before by the congressional delegation, and then ended up supporting that, but too late to keep the bill in active consideration, so ended up killing it.”

(Dillon) Governor Douglas says the bill is not dead. He says he’s hopeful that Congress will pass the compromise in the lame duck session after the November election.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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