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Saturday, November 29 2014 @ 01:20 AM CST

Environmentalists, Labor, and Native Americans Chart New Course For Conservation in Vermont!

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Vermont stands at the crossroads of history. As much of the United States teeters towards the precipice of reaction, Vermont has emerged, yet again, as a beacon of light in a darkening sky. While Congress debates cutting funding for healthcare, our friends in the Vermont Workers’ Center have built a movement which has resulted in us moving closer to a Vermont based, single payer healthcare system. While Washington contemplates cuts to Native American community programs, our General Assembly officially “recognized” the Nulhegan and Elnu Abenaki Tribes. And as the pawns of Big Oil/Big Coal/Big Nuclear seek ways to liquidate the country’s environmental protection regulations, Vermonters are demanding that Vermont Yankee be closed down and replaced with “green” energy production. And again, while Congress strives to gut the home heating fuel assistance program, the Vermont Sierra Club, as part of the Our Forests Our Future campaign, is fighting to build local, town owned conservation forests that can provide sustainable firewood for low income and elderly Vermonters.

Environmentalists, Labor, and Native Americans Chart New Course For Conservation in Vermont!

OUR FORESTS OUR FUTURE
A New Model for Conservation in Vermont:

Securing Our Environment, Jobs, and Culture Through Local Democratic Ownership and Control of Cumminty Forests

By David Van Deusen, Conservation Organizer,
Vermont Sierra Club

Please show your support for the environment and town forests in Vermont! Go to this link and sign our town forest petition today!

Vermont stands at the crossroads of history. As much of the United States teeters towards the precipice of reaction, Vermont has emerged, yet again, as a beacon of light in a darkening sky. While Congress debates cutting funding for healthcare, our friends in the Vermont Workers’ Center have built a movement which has resulted in us moving closer to a Vermont based, single payer healthcare system. While Washington contemplates cuts to Native American community programs, our General Assembly officially “recognized” the Nulhegan and Elnu Abenaki Tribes. And as the pawns of Big Oil/Big Coal/Big Nuclear seek ways to liquidate the country’s environmental protection regulations, Vermonters are demanding that Vermont Yankee be closed down and replaced with “green” energy production. And again, while Congress strives to gut the home heating fuel assistance program, the Vermont Sierra Club, as part of the Our Forests Our Future campaign, is fighting to build local, town owned conservation forests that can provide sustainable firewood for low income and elderly Vermonters.

***

Last September, the Vermont Sierra Club launched the ambitious Our Forests Our Future campaign. Our goal from the start was (and continues to be) the building of popular support for the establishment wildlife migration corridors connecting the northern Connecticut River with the Nulhegan Basin, the basin to the northern Green Mountains, the northern Greens to Quebec, and the southern Green Mountains with our western border. Doing this would not only connect our core protected habitat areas, but it would also link our forests with those in Quebec to the north, the Adirondacks towards the west, and the White Mountains and northern Maine to the east. The result of this historic task will be the generational protection of our animal and plant populations through the unification of the last great northeastern forests. In a word, we seek to build “resiliency” into Vermont’s natural environment.

This task was foisted upon the shoulders of the Vermont Sierra Club and other local environmentalists not out of fancy or fantasy, but in reaction to the very real and looming tragedies brought to our collective horizon by climate change, industrial pollution, and irresponsible development. In brief, we have a window to act, or we risk losing our forests and those Vermont traditions that count on a healthy ecosystem. In this, we seek to deliver to our children’s grandchildren a Vermont that would be recognizable to our Abenaki and Green Mountain Boy ancestors. Let us be clear; we are fighting to preserve our outdoor traditions and our Vermont Way of Life.

There are different ways to build wildlife corridors. Our method is one that may be unique to Vermont. We are not trying to increase federal land acquisitions. We are not actively asking the State to buy more land. We are instead seeking to establish a mosaic of town, tribal, and community owned conservation forests throughout our broad corridor regions. We are doing this not only because we believe that Vermont lands should stay in Vermont hands, but also because local ownership is the best way to foster accountability and good stewardship from the local residents who inevitably will walk these forests. In brief, we seek to build on our tradition of localism and town sovereignty as an effective method of comprehensive conservation. We also recognize that this method is one that the great majority of Vermonters both understand and support.

While the ultimate use of such forests will largely be determined by local people at Town Meeting and on Select Boards, the democratically elected Executive Committee of the Vermont Sierra Club, after extensive consultations with the Nulhegan Abenaki, representatives of the Vermont Workers Center, and our 3000 members, is advocating that these town owned conservations forests be used in creative ways which not only preserve our local ecosystems, but also bring direct social and economic benefits to the towns in which they are situated. Towards this end, we contend that the forests must be open to all Vermonters for traditional outdoor uses such as hiking, camping, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, horseback riding, etc. We also contend that Vermonters need to have the right to hunt and fish these lands (which we see as a food security issue), and that these forests should be used by towns to provide free or cheap firewood for elderly and low income residents. In addition, we are encouraging communities to consider using the forests for low impact cooperative activities like bucket and tap maple sugaring, as well as for educational purposes. We also understand that taking land out of private ownership reduces local tax revenue. Therefore we are supporting sustainable logging, in areas not deemed ecologically sensitive and as approved by the County Forester, as a means to create public revenue and as a way to support sustainable logging jobs. And finally, we also respect that snowmobiling is an important recreational and economic element in some localities, and hence feel that towns should be able to have snow machine trails at their discretion. All told, increasing town ownership of the forests will benefit both our environment and the local economy, while providing social benefits to area residents. This is what we, as members of the Sierra Club and as Vermonters, are fighting for; no more no less.

But how do we build these new town forests? The Vermont Sierra Club recognizes that many small communities simply do not have the resources needed for large land purchases. Therefore, we would like to see resources from the Vermont Housing and Conservation fund better focused on projects which fit the above criteria. We also have been actively engaged in conversations with our Federal Delegation about bringing resources from Washington back to the towns. By our accounting, if the federal government can spend over one trillion dollars of citizens tax dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (*statistic quoted by the American Friends Service Committee), they can certainly find a much more modest sum to help Vermont and the northeast preserve our forests.

All told, the campaign to establish comprehensive migration corridors is a long term project, and will be achieved over years and even generations. Thus we will start now by building a movement, and we will secure all possible funding (public and private) for towns and communities as opportunities are created.

In the meantime, we have been actively engaging our supporters and our 3000 members across the state. We have begun to build local activist teams in the Northeast Kingdom, Central Vermont, Addison/Rutland Counties, and in southern Vermont. These teams have been distributing Our Forests Our Future campaign pamphlets to the public, and they have been gathering signatures in support of town forests as a means to create migration corridors. We have also launched an on-line version of the petition (which can be reached at: http://action.sierraclub.org/site/PageServer?pagename=20110222_Vermont_Town_Forests_Petition&autologin=true&s_src=211brhae01 ). In the coming weeks and months we intend to organize public events in support of the campaign and will generally demonstrate overwhelming public support for the goals which we are working towards. In short we will do what is needed to see this historic task through.

Let it also be said that the Vermont Sierra Club is not alone. To date, the Our Forests Our Future campaign has been officially endorsed by the Vermont Workers Center, the Green Mountain Central Labor Council AFL-CIO, the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe (Northeast Kingdom), the Elnu Abenaki Tribe (southeast Vermont), 350VT, the VT Conservation Law Foundation, and the Global Justice Ecology Project. These partnerships are making all of our organizations stronger. Just as the Workers’ Center and the Abenaki are backing our conservation efforts the Vermont Sierra Club is backing the Workers Center in their Healthcare is a Human Right campaign and we also successfully supported the Nulhegan and Elnu Tribes in their quest for state recognition. Together, we are forging a coalition that will be capable of winning comprehensive conservation and social justice for all Vermonters. Furthermore, it is our expectation that these partnerships will grow as we are also presently engaged in discussions with many environmental groups, farmer organizations, the faith community, and sportsmen clubs. As we feel that the local forest initiative is in the best interest of Vermonters on many levels, we are confident that will continue to build a large and diverse coalition in support of this historic campaign.

In conclusion, it is widely known across these rugged hills that Vermont stands in contrast to a world controlled by money, corporations, and the few. “Freedom and Unity” -amongst Vermonters, these are not mere words but rather a statement of principles and common solidarity. Together we will preserve our outdoor traditions, our forests, our communities, and our Vermont Way of Life. Together we will win!

THE VERMONT SIERRA CLUB WANTS YOU!
Support The Our Forests Our Future Campaign!

We need volunteers in every corner of the state to help us gather signatures for the town forest petition and to build our local organization.

Call the Vermont Sierra Club today at: (802)229-6399
Or email us at david.vandeusen@sierraclub.org and say:

“I Am Ready To Fight For These Green Hills!

We Can Only Win With Your Support And Direct Participation!

***Please show your support for the environment and town forests in Vermont! Go to the below link and sign our town forest petition today!

http://action.sierraclub.org/site/PageServer?pagename=20110222_Vermont_Town_Forests_Petition&autologin=true&s_src=211brhae01

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