Foresters urge lawmakers not to place Act 250 burden on forest development

Lawmakers are considering a bill to curb forest fragmentation by requiring a permit for development within contiguous forests.

Thursday, foresters urged lawmakers to strengthen the state’s current land conservation program instead.

The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee is drafting a bill designed to protect Vermont’s aesthetic beauty and wildlife habitat by requiring an Act 250 permit to develop forestland under certain conditions.

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Several foresters testified before the committee Thursday that the bill could have unintended consequences that could be avoided if the state strengthened the Current Use program, a policy designed to preserve land as working farms and forests through tax breaks.

Daniel H. Hudnut, a professional forester with Wagner Forest Management, said the bill uses the coarse tool of Act 250 and would likely create added costs and uncertainty for foresters already struggling to keep up in a rural economy.

“The purpose is reasonable, but the means are flawed,” he told the committee.

Sen. Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington, chair of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said there will be no vote on the bill until the details are fleshed out.

“There is a lot of suggestion that it doesn’t do what it’s intended to do,” he said.

He said the departments of Fish and Wildlife and Parks and Recreation are both working to address the widely acknowledged problem of forest fragmentation, a process by which development creates isolated patches of forest.

The bill, as amended, requires an Act 250 permit for development on 1,000-acre lots of continuous forestland within 1,000 feet of existing development.

Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, the bill’s lead sponsor, was not present for Thursday’s committee meeting.

Act 250, the state’s land use and development law, is a quasi-judicial permit process conducted through the state’s nine District Environmental Commissions. The permit’s criteria include development requirements that meet pollution, soil, water quality and aesthetic standards.

Put Blodgett, president of Vermont Woodlands Association and a tree farmer who owns 670 acres of forest in Bradford, opposes the permit requirement.

“Having served on a District Environmental Commission in central Vermont and later as chair of the commission dealing with Quechee lakes, I shudder at the idea of burdening barely profitable forest land with the expense and time involved in going through Act 250,” he told the committee.

Blodgett, who also co-chairs the Current Use Tax Coalition, said the state’s Current Use program should be strengthened.

“Rather than holding this stick over our heads, why not use the carrot of a stronger UVA program, more support for working lands and the incentive of tax savings for conservation easements?” he said.

The state’s Current Use, or Use Value Appraisal (UVA) program, taxes land based on its use, such as forestry or farming, rather than its fair market value.

Jonathan Wood, former secretary for the Agency of Natural Resources and forestry consultant, said the state’s Current Use program should make preserving forests profitable.

“Current use if the best tool we have right now,” he told the committee.

“You want a stable, predictable system for long term investment in forestland,” he said, restating what he has told former Gov. Jim Douglas, who later vetoed a bill to add fees and penalties to the program.

Jamey Fidel, forest and wildlife program director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council, said there is a role for Act 250 to address forest fragmentation.

“We understand that it’s a delicate balancing act; on how to respect property rights, but also understand how we can review and limit the amount of fragmentation in a way where Act 250 can play a meaningful role,” Fidel said in an interview after the hearing.

John Herrick

Comments

  1. Kathy Nelson :

    The current use program is so full of loopholes and riddled with abuse that strengthening it is like patching a screen door in a submarine. There’s a big difference between well managed forestry and the rip it to pieces messes caused by some loggers. Unfortunately the few will ruin it for all so this new legislation will be very much needed to prevent Vermont from becoming a patchwork of broken bushes and industrial dead zones.
    Respect for property rights does not mean that some, who own bigger patches of land, should have more rights than the person who owns a half acre house lot. And respect for the value of nature does not end when a big landowner wants to destroy it all to keep his wallet more than well padded. Small property owners must come to terms with the limits of what they can do on their small properties and so should big landowners. If big landowners do not want to be responsible stewards of the land then they should ease their tax burden by turning the land over to a non-profit conservation group or state/national park.

  2. George Plumb :

    Not only are our extremely important forest being fragmented the overall percentage of coverage is declining for the first time in well over a century. As one who owns a large tract of forest land that is in current use putting development of contiguous forest land under Act 250 seems like a reasonable thing to do if we want to protect our wildlife habitat, hunting, scenic beauty and carbon sequestration. As long as people can still harvest their forest they can still earn money from the land and as demand for wood for fuel increases the financial benefits are only going to increase.

  3. Randy Koch :

    Act 250, know to insiders as “Permits ‘R’ Us”, shouldn’t cause developers much anxiety: almost every permit application is granted. Even when it’s a matter of legally protected resources, such as prime agricultural soils or deeryards, developers have been able to pull a rabbit out of a hat in the form of something called “Off-site mitigation” This is when the developer buys, let’s say, 60 acres of woodland nobody would ever want to develop. Then, keeping a straight face let’s hope, he preserves that land from being developed and in exchange is allowed to destroy let’s say 10 acres of ag soils or deeryard with development elsewhere.

    • Richard G Rogers :

      Absolutely. Neither Act 250 nor current use will prevent forest (or farmland) fragmentation.

  4. Steve Sease :

    One of the most significant threats to large forest blocks in recent years has been large scale ridge line wind development. Ironically, it seems that some woodland owners argue that ridge line big wind development is necessary to maintain their ownership and woodland operations. I understand the cynicism toward Act 250 and the Section 248 process that some have expressed, but I believe its important that we address the issue and seek regulatory controls in both Act 250 and Section 248 to address fragmentation of large forest blocks.

  5. Paul Lorenzini :

    I would suggest that any land owner that is not in compliance with the rules of current use, but has reaped the benefits, pay back all the taxes that they avoided at others expense. That is fair. Of course we would need to actually monitor all recipients of the tax break.

  6. Annette Smith :

    I recommend this article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-moyer-phd/trees-are-our-climate-logging_b_4775894.html?utm_hp_ref=green
    Large amounts of carbon are stored in the living wood and the soil of old forests. Forests left undisturbed for 1,000 years or more continue to suck carbon into the soil. Recent studies show that Northern Hemisphere forests capture large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Forests in the United States sequester 10 percentof the total annual United States carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.Uncut forests store more carbon than do forests that are logged, and the loss of carbon is proportional to the extent of harvesting. Over two-thirds of the total carbon in forest ecosystems is stored in forest soil, and significant release of soil carbon occurs from logging.

  7. I have a very different view of this. I have been researching Agenda 21 for some time now and see this article as just one more step toward relieving us of our property rights. Instead of trying to explain the process of Agenda 21 in this venue, I will provide a link –

    http://www.democratsagainstunagenda21.com/

    Please take time to read the article in the link and don’t stop there, there are many links on the page to further an education. We need to “WAKE UP” or we will have our property rights stolen by foreign elitist dictators, mainly the UN!

  8. Townsend Peters :

    The article fails to mention that the bill does not require a permit for logging or forestry, which would remain exempt from Act 250.

  9. Neil Johnson :

    Our state has been passing an enormous amount of legislation in the last few years, restricting property rights and what can be built and how it’s been built. It’s field day because a small group can make a suggestion and an unbalanced body of leaders pass anything. Much of the implementation has been done with little or nor regard to common sense or cost. Familiar names in this article have been coming up many times on many rule changes. Attorneys can not keep up with all the regulation changes, and in Vermont a permit violation is an unclear title, unlike all other states where it is separate. VNRC and other state organizations add on cost ineffective requirements for insulation on new buildings, When you could build a small house or turn down your heat and save a ton of fuel, no consideration for house size. Towns have no commercial use by rights, huge fines can be levied for non conformance, beware of the sandwich boards they’ll cost you, We can’t locally control our taxes on education, great design huh? Wait for the same problem with healthcare, coming soon. They are working on banning wood stoves, the amount of regulations are staggering. Loggers are not evil, please, my guess is your house is built from renewable resource of wood, wood floors, wood cabinets. You can clearly harvest wood in an environmentally responsible way. What is your alternative building material? Another absurd rule, if someone build a ski house, didn’t rent it out for more than six months and did this prior when permits were required it is no longer considered a house, it’s a camp, you will need to build a whole new septic system for it to be a house, regardless of how well your system works. All this is under the guise of our natural resources. What is our wildlife goal, do we have a shortage of forest land?…..nobody seems to answer that question, how many bears do we want to manage? When will say enough we’re at a good capacity? They wont’ answer and don’t know the answer because the goal isn’t to promote wildlife or forestry, you’ll have to dig a bit deeper to find their true goals. Some of the comments on here will lead you to the real answer if you are inclined to find the truth.

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