Water Board to Consider Request to Protect Streams in National Forest

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(Host) Environmentalists have won a round in their effort to gain greater protection for streams and ponds in the Green Mountain National Forest.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Water Resources Board says it will consider a request to designate about 60 waterways in the forest as “outstanding resource waters.” This designation, allowed under the federal Clean Water Act, is given to pristine streams that are deemed worthy of high-level protection. The designation could lead to restrictions on land use or logging in the forest.

Chris Kilian, a lawyer for the Conservation Law Foundation, was pleased by the ruling.

(Kilian) “These are some of the most remote and pristine watersheds left in the state and they’re really ecological treasures that need to be protected. And we’re hoping that the Agency of Natural Resources can step up and support that and stand with us at the Water Resources Board in advocating for the protection of these waters.”

(Dillon) The state Agency of Natural Resources asked the board to dismiss the case. But the board refused and has scheduled hearings. Forest and Parks Commissioner Jonathan Wood says that the petition was too broad.

(Wood) “It wasn’t specific enough. Although it was petitioned on the basis of water quality, we really didn’t think there was enough information out there based on our files on the broad type of waters related within the petition. We knew we didn’t we didn’t have site specific information from the standpoint of water quality on that many streams.”

(Dillon) The forest products industry has also raised concerns that the outstanding resource water designation could lead to limits on logging. Wood says he shares those concerns.

(Wood) “We certainly would have a concern if it would prohibit what we think are ongoing sound, forest management activities, or recreational activities that are ongoing and that are historic on those lands.”

(Dillon) But the Water Resource Board ruled that, for now, the forest management implications are not relevant to the case.

Kilian says that if the petition is approved it would not automatically led to a ban on logging in the areas.

(Kilian) “But it would require great, great care in conducting those activities, and that in our opinion, is totally appropriate given the quality of these watersheds.”

(Dillon) Wood, the Forest and Parks commissioner, says some of the streams cited in the petition do merit greater protection. He says the state hopes to gather more information on those waterways as the case progresses.

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

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