(Host) The debate over more wilderness land for Vermont has spilled over into the gubernatorial campaign.
Democratic candidate Scudder Parker has launched a new radio ad that criticizes Republican Jim Douglas for opposing a bill in Congress that would create more wilderness.
Douglas says he supports protecting forestland. But at the same time, his administration has sided with opponents of more wilderness in the Green Mountain National forest.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) Scudder Parker’s new campaign ad takes aim at an issue that until now has been somewhat obscure for voters.
The Democrat criticizes Douglas for intervening last week as the U.S. House was set to consider New England wilderness legislation. The Senate had passed the bill unanimously. Staff members for the Vermont congressional delegation say the governor’s objections helped stall the bill in the House this week.
Parker’s ad highlights the governor’s intervention.
(Parker) “He sent a last minute letter urging Congress to reject the plan. The Burlington Free Press and the Rutland Herald called the compromise the right thing to do and criticized Douglas for objecting to it. They said his actions as governor were disturbing and overly political.”
(Dillon) Douglas says he sent the letter because the Senate bill creates more wilderness than he thinks is necessary. He says he doubts that his letter alone derailed the wilderness bill.
(Douglas) “I reject strongly the notion that this is an 11th hour intervention. This is something that has been discussed all the time I’ve been in office.”
(Dillon) The governor’s letter last week to House Republican leaders says he supports the Green Mountain National Forest Plan. The plan calls for less wilderness than the Senate bill.
But meanwhile his administration has sided with groups opposed to the forest plan. Several organizations, including Associated Industries of Vermont, the Vermont Traditions Coalition, and the Forest Products Association, have appealed the Forest Service plan. They say the plan overlooks the objections of towns that oppose wilderness.
Anthony Iarropino of the Conservation Law Foundation says Douglas is trying to have it both ways.
(Iarropino) “On the one hand they claim to support the wilderness allocation arrived at by the Forest Service. On the other hand and at the same time they’re joining with anti-wilderness groups on an appeal of the Forest Plan.”
(Dillon) Douglas says he’s not being inconsistent. He says Jonathan Wood, his commissioner of Forest and Parks, asked him to support the appeal.
(Douglas) “There are some procedural issues that are important to raise in the context of an appeal, so I agreed to do that.”
(Dillon) Parker, the Democratic candidate for governor, says the governor needs to show more leadership on the issue.
(Parker) “If he’s opposed to the bill stand up and say it, say it clearly. Tell the people of the state of Vermont that you don’t like the outcome of this negotiation and that you oppose it and do that forcefully and clearly, and then explain it to the people of this state. But don’t sort of undercut it and say, well I really didn’t mean to undercut it.’ That is just not straightforward with the people of this state.”
(Dillon) But the governor says he has been clear. He says he tried to work with the Vermont delegation on the bill. But he says the congressmen didn’t take his concerns fully into account, a charge the delegation denies.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.