by Zack Porter
This op-ed also appeared online in VT Digger.
Please take action today in support of VT House Bill 606, the Community Resilience and Biodiversity Protection Act.
February 1, 2022
The struggle to preserve and restore wild nature is a long-distance relay race. Our efforts build upon those of dedicated activists over the last century, and — here in what we now call Vermont — on the care of the Abenaki people since time immemorial.
Last summer, my family was awestruck by a close encounter with a bald eagle while paddling a quiet backwater on the Connecticut River. Just a generation ago, such an encounter would have been unthinkable — bald eagles were nearly extirpated from New England due to the pesticide DDT.
Today, thanks to the efforts of tireless advocates and visionaries like Rachel Carson, bald eagles are just one of several species that have returned to at least parts of their historic range in the northeastern U.S., from beavers to pine martens to moose.
It’s up to us to ensure that this remarkable story of recovery continues and expands to other species. And yet, as we all know, the deck is stacked against the species with whom we share the Earth, including here in our Green Mountain home.
What will it take to bring back the wolf? The lynx? The catamount? The salmon? The wolverine? The elk? What will it take simply to keep the animals we’re fortunate to still have with us, today?
Each successive generation must pick up the baton from leaders like Rachel Carson and the countless others who have come before us. In December, we lost another champion: renowned biologist and naturalist, Edward (E.O.) Wilson.
E.O. Wilson educated the world about the beautiful biodiversity of our planet as we know it, as well as about the 8 million species he estimated we still aren’t aware of. I admire him most for his courage to make a clear call to action for half the planet to be permanently protected for nature’s sake, the “Half-Earth” vision that he laid out in his 2016 book by the same name.
At the time, many scientists and policymakers scoffed at such a bold pronouncement. But Ed had the last laugh. Five years later, dozens of nations, an increasing number of U.S. states, and tribal nations across North America have all committed to protecting 30% of the planet by 2030 as an interim step toward protecting 50% by 2050.
Only permanently protected landscapes, free from commercial logging and road construction, are guaranteed to someday restore the native forest ecosystems of northern New England. Today, such wildlands comprise just 3% of Vermont. The science that informs the 30×30 movement makes clear that we must increase the amount of permanently protected wildlands to provision the clean water, flood risk reduction, and carbon storage that we desperately need to face the challenges of our rapidly changing climate.
Fortunately, all that is required to restore the natural forests of New England is a dose of humility and the gift of time. Lots of time. Time for trees to grow old. To fall over. To rot and feed the soil. And for this process to be repeated year after year, for centuries on end.
Vermont’s new Climate Action Plan directs the state to “Increase the pace of permanent conservation toward 30×30 targets.” Guided by Vermont Conservation Design, a report produced by the Agency of Natural Resources in 2018 to sustain the state’s biodiversity, the climate plan recommends that 9% of Vermont’s forests be restored to their native, wild, old-growth condition — the kind of forests within which our spectacular native biodiversity and sophisticated Indigenous cultures evolved over millennia.
The Climate Action Plan may be our collective compass, pointing us in the right direction, but we still lack a map to show us the way to conserving 30% of Vermont’s land by 2030 and 50% by 2050. Vermont has a golden opportunity to chart the path forward with H606, the Community Resilience and Biodiversity Protection Act, currently under consideration by the Vermont House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife. This simple yet critical bill would require the state, with stakeholder input, to craft a blueprint that will get us to a truly resilient future.
If you, too, share a vision to set our state on a course toward a more balanced, biodiverse, and stable future, then please contact your local representatives and indicate your support for H606.
Twenty years ago, E.O. Wilson wrote, “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.” Vermont has gathered all the evidence it needs to act. It’s time to find the moral courage to make wise use of it.
Zack Porter is the Director of Standing Trees.