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Op-Ed: Striking the Balance, Managing Vermont's State Lands

Opinion: Striking the Balance, Managing Vermont's State Lands

By: FPR Commissioner Danielle Fitzko

Vermont's public lands, including over 360,000 acres stewarded by the State of Vermont, are a significant treasure providing multiple benefits and uses. As the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), we have the important role of managing state-owned lands for the benefit of all species – big and small.

This work requires us to strike a delicate balance among many uses and goals Vermonters have for our public lands – from wildlife habitat to recreation, from harvesting timber to sequestering carbon. To share our approach for balancing these different demands on and for our state lands, as well as meet our stewardship goals, we develop long range management plans. The plans consider the well-being of our environment, the prosperity of our communities, and the needs of present and future generations, as well as the strategies to achieve those goals. We actively seek public input both before and after we draft these plans to understand and reflect the public's priorities and values.

Over the past two months, nearly 700 Vermonters have shared their opinions about the proposed management plan for the Worcester Range Management Unit (WRMU). One common theme is clear: Vermonters care deeply about our forests and expect them to play a key role in addressing some of the most pressing concerns of our time: climate change, flooding, biodiversity collapse, and human well-being.

The unfortunate fact is that many of our forests bear the marks of Vermont's land-use history of large-scale forest clearing, resulting in ecosystems that lack diversity, are less resilient, and are more susceptible to invasive plants, insects and diseases, and degradation.

To address past management and restore Vermont's forest health and complexity, we need intentional forest management, custom designed for the specific needs of different areas of the forest - a kind of 'wellness plan' to increase our forests' ability to withstand the impact of climate change and other threats while simultaneously offering greater protection for human, wildlife, and ecological communities. And our wellness plan for the WRMU identifies nearly 10,000 acres – over half of the area covered by the plan – where passive management strategies are suitable.

In other areas of the WRMU, a more active approach is needed to reduce forest vulnerability and increase resilience so that forests can continue to provide the benefits we enjoy—and we depend on. This includes active management strategies, such as targeted timber harvesting and invasive species control, to promote the growth of diverse (young to old and with a wide range of species), resilient, and healthy forests. Management efforts are also proposed to enhance wildlife habitat by creating openings in the forest canopy and increasing diversity, providing food and cover for a wider range of wildlife species. Importantly, these targeted timber harvests will be used to provide essential forest products that support local economies and promote and demonstrate exemplary management and sustainable use.

This balanced approach – that involves both active and passive strategies – is developed collaboratively by experts from across ANR through years of assessment and fieldwork will result in thriving, diverse, and sustainable forests in a changing environment.

We are fortunate to have such strong public interest in how our state lands are managed. Our staff will continue to review the many comments received, discuss changes to the plan, and will be back in touch with the next steps in the planning process this spring. Contact if you would like to be added to our mailing list to receive updates. We look forward to continuing to work with Vermonters to ensure that our state lands remain a vital asset that balances many uses and goals for generations to come.