Watershed protection sought for national forest

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(Host) Two environmental groups want greater protection for many streams and ponds in the 400,000-acre Green Mountain National Forest. The petition filed with the Water Resources Board covers seven separate watersheds and includes the headwaters of several major rivers in the Green Mountains.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The environmental groups want to bring the highest level of protection under state and federal law for 60 brooks, ponds, wetlands and rivers in the national forest. The petition filed with the Water Resources Board says the region includes pristine, undisturbed habitat. Kelly Lowry is a lawyer with the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

(Lowry) “The reason we chose these particular waters is because of their outstanding ecological significance. And we would like for the state to recognize that formally.”

(Dillon) The Forest Service is rewriting its management plan for the forest. So Lowry said environmentalists wanted the plan to include protection for the upper elevation streams and ponds. Lowry says the petition by itself doesn’t affect land management or logging in the forest.

(Lowry) “That analysis will have to be made on a case by case basis. In some cases, it may limit the ability to do a certain kind of activity. In other cases, it may not. The real question is whether the proposed activity maintains and protects existing water quality. If the answer to that is yes, they can do whatever they want to on the land.”

(Dillon) But the timber industry has concerns about the petition. Ed Larsen represents the Vermont Forest Products Association, a trade group.

(Larsen) “Well, we don’t know what the impact is going to be. I don’t think anybody really knows what the impact is. Very concerned about what this does with how we can manage our forests.”

(Dillon) The Conservation Law Foundation has also joined in the petition. Chris Kilian said the higher level of protection – known as outstanding resource water designation – is not a new concept for the Forest Service.

(Kilian) “This protective designation is already in place on all surface waters within the entire White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. So the designation would not be an entirely new standards for the Forest Service to be considering and implementing.”

(Dillon) Kilian says the watersheds covered by the petition do not have roads and are not being actively logged. The Water Resources Board will hold a preliminary hearing on the issue on February 10.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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