Healthy Forests & Wildlife
Vermont’s forested landscape is central to our state’s identity and economy. Forest-based manufacturing, recreation, and tourism employ approximately 13,000 Vermonters and contribute about $1.5 billion in revenue to the state every year. From forest jobs in the woods, to recreational opportunities for hunters, birdwatchers, hikers and anglers, to helping filter and clean our waters, and providing a home for iconic wildlife – healthy forests are an essential asset for Vermont.
Unfortunately, recent studies commissioned by the Legislature show our forests are being fragmented, which reduces their overall health and habitat quality, resulting in reduced biodiversity, more invasive species, reduced water quality, reduced recreational and hunting access, and smaller tracts that can’t support a working forest economy. In response, the Vermont Legislature passed Act 171 in 2016 to put in place a proactive process to maintain healthy, intact tracts of forest for current and future generations to enjoy, and which better support working forests.
Another major concern is the impending large-scale shift in forest ownership and management. The vast majority (80%) of Vermont’s forestland is in private ownership, and according to surveys, more than 17% of Vermont landowners who own more than 10 acres plan to transfer or sell their land in the next five years. This means that a lot of forested parcels will be changing hands in the coming years. As land changes hands, parcels are often divided up into smaller segments with more landowners. The anticipated large-scale transition of land ownership in the immediate future threatens to dramatically change our landscape. The Legislature should explore policies, such as tax incentives and funding successional planning programs, to encourage the maintenance of intact tracts of forest as land changes ownership – particularly in priority forest blocks identified by the Agency of Natural Resources.
Finally, in 2017-2018, lawmakers continued progress begun on Act 171 by working on H.233, an important policy that would correct a long-standing gap in Act 250 by updating criteria to better address forest fragmentation by shaping development so that it maintains intact forest blocks and habitat connectivity. While this bill stalled out before the end of the 2018 legislative session, these policy ideas should be revisited in 2019 as part of the Act 250 modernization discussion.
2019 Legislative Priorities
- Support Act 250 modernization policies that will:
- Protect and maintain the viability of agricultural and working forest lands, and reduce the fragmentation of intact forests.
- Improve protections for our natural resources, including birds, fish and wildlife.
- Appropriate full statutory funding for the Municipal and Regional Planning Fund that enables communities and Regional Planning Commissions to meet various statutory goals related to maintaining healthy forests, meeting our climate and energy goals, and providing affordable housing and transportation options for Vermonters.
- Maintain strong funding for Downtown and Village Tax Credits.
- Invest $3 million annually for the next five years in the Working Lands Enterprise Fund to support the transition of farm and forest enterprises and ensure a dynamic future for the working landscape that defines Vermont.