After Gov. Phil Scott vetoes conservation bill, environmental group ready to ‘play hardball’

The White Rocks National Recreation Area in Wallingford. Zack Porter, executive director of Standing Trees, said the conservation group would “use every option that we have to force the state to follow the law of the land.” Photo courtesy of Zack Porter

Govt. Phil Scott has vetoed a bill that would set goals of conserving 30% of Vermont’s land by 2030 and 50% by 2050, drawing the ire of a conservation group and criticism from the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

The goals outlined in H.606 aligned with the Biden administration’s federal goals, and would have included three types of conservation. Ecological reserve areas would have “permanent protection from conversion of natural land cover.” Biodiversity conservation areas would have included permanent protection “managed for the primary goal of sustaining species or habitats.” Natural resource management areas would have some opportunities for “long-term sustainable forest management,” such as logging.

Had the bill passed, the Agency of Natural Resources would have been required to develop a plan to carry out the conservation goals by the end of 2023.

In a letter to lawmakers, Scott said the Agency of Natural Resources had tested against the bill because “the conservation goals established in H.606 are unnecessarily tied to — and unreasonably limited to — permanent protection.”

“The Agency has repeatedly said that permanent preservation has not been, and cannot be, the state’s exclusive conservation tool and this bill, intentional or not, would diminish the existing and successful conservation tools we have,” Scott wrote.

The bill stemmed from a recommendation from Vermont’s Climate Action Plan, designed to meet the state’s legally mandated greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements outlined in the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act. The state could be vulnerable to laws if it doesn’t have a plan to meet the established requirements.

Last month, Scott vetoed a bill that would have established a clean heat standard, widely recognized as the largest climate bill of the legislative session. A separate, regional plan to reduce emissions from transportation crumbled shortly before the Climate Action Plan was published.

Zack Porter, executive director of Standing Trees, an organization that advocates for the permanent protection of and restoration of forests on New England’s public lands, said the latest veto means his organization is ready to “play hardball.”

“We’re going to use every option that we have to force the state to follow the law of the land in ways that it is not currently, and to take the steps that it needs to take, not just statutorily, but to go beyond and rise up to these challenges,” Porter said.

In a statement following the veto, the Vermont Natural Resources Council said that US Forest Service statistics show the state is “losing upwards of 14,500 acres of forestland per year to development, causing significant impacts to our forest ecosystem health and our natural and working lands economy .”

“Because of the Governor’s veto, we are left with no plan to address the increasing fragmentation of our rural and working lands,” Jamey Fidel, forest and wildlife program director with the council, said in the statement. “At some point we need the Governor to show some leadership on this issue. Unfortunately, today is not that day.”

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