Public records reveal State attempt to weaken and conceal damning report commissioned to protect Vermont communities from future flood disasters like Tropical Storm Irene;
State feared report would end logging in Camel’s Hump and other state lands
For Immediate Release: October 5, 2022
For Additional Information: Zack Porter, Executive Director, Standing Trees, email@example.com, 802-552-0160 Jamison Ervin, firstname.lastname@example.org, 802-999-9792 Jim Dumont, email@example.com, 802-349-7342
MONTPELIER, VT – Public records requests by Vermont citizens represented by the Montpelier-based nonprofit, Standing Trees, reveal how the VT Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) attempted to weaken and conceal recommendations in a report that it contracted from experts to help the state increase its resilience to natural disasters and climate change. Standing Trees previously petitioned the state to halt 3,750-acres of proposed logging in and around Camel’s Hump State Park, where a new management plan was recently completed, until it had complied with a law requiring rulemaking for state lands to ensure transparency and accountability in decision making. Based on revelations from Public Records Act requests that further discredit ANR’s management of state lands, Standing Trees has notified the state that by law it must now commence rulemaking within 30 days. If it does not, Standing Trees will file suit.
“As a thirty-year resident of Duxbury, we’ve lived through climate-related disasters on the shoulder of Camel’s Hump before. Hurricane Irene caused millions of dollars of damage to our roads and bridges, and our roads have never fully recovered. Clearly put, logging in the forested headwaters in our town puts our community, our roads and our safety in jeopardy,” commented Jamison Ervin, one of the lead petitioners. “The records we’ve obtained show that the state has willfully hidden and ignored expert advice that could save lives and property, in order to continue business-as-usual logging practices.”
The report, “Enhancing Flood Resiliency of Vermont State Lands,” was contracted by the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation (FPR) to “evaluate current practices and management plans and to make recommendations for improved management with the specific goal of attenuating flood flows, thereby improving water quality and reducing downstream flooding.” It was issued in 2015.
The report was never referenced in the 2021 management plan for Camel’s Hump.
“We put the state on notice earlier this summer that it was out of compliance with the law,” said Standing Trees Executive Director, Zack Porter. “But we had no idea, until now, that the state knowingly hid important research to protect public safety, paid for with public dollars, from the people of Vermont. Because no rules govern ANR’s conduct when managing public lands, ANR was able to hide these crucial facts from the public when deciding the future of Camel’s Hump.”
Climate experts warn that precipitation in Vermont is increasing, overall, and is more likely to come in extreme rainfall events as the climate changes. The report stresses the importance of using state lands to slow, spread, and sink floodwaters into forest soils, especially in headwaters where 90% of Vermont state lands are located. Logging roads and logging practices are highlighted as drivers of water quality degradation, sedimentation, and increased overland flows. Recent research at UVM predicts that climate-driven flooding could cost the state $5.2 billion in property damage over the next century.
Fearing that the 2015 report would “drastically alter the type of work our foresters do on a daily basis,” internal FPR emails obtained by Standing Trees show an agency grappling with the report’s implications and fearing for the future of logging on state lands:
If the report’s recommendations were followed, wrote one FPR forester, “then it is a simple fact that many tens of thousands, possibly even hundreds of thousands of acres of previously managed forest land will need to be removed from the roles of active management, and millions of board feet of timber that have been grown and tended over the last hundred years will be allowed [to] go beyond their commercially useful age.”
“I can say with certainty that it is impossible to conduct any timber harvests in Camel’s Hump Management Unit while prohibiting a [log] landing [in] Hydrologic Conservation Zones” proposed by the 2015 report.
Foresters for the state of Vermont made other revealing comments in their critiques. “If AMP’s [(Acceptable Management Practices for Maintaining Water Quality on Logging Jobs in Vermont)] are disregarded and difficult to enforce,” asked one FPR forester, “what kind of compliance can be expected” from logging contractors if new, stronger requirements for performance are implemented?
Other documents obtained by Standing Trees revealed an example of logging on state lands prior to a requisite screening for endangered species. There were no repercussions for the state, because no binding rules exist to hold the state accountable.
“If these are truly public lands, then rulemaking is the first step towards democratizing their management,” commented attorney Jim Dumont, who represents Standing Trees and Vermont citizens named in the petition. “Rulemaking opens up for public and legislative scrutiny how an agency makes its decisions. Today, there is no transparency or accountability in state land decision making. The documents we obtained through the Public Records Act clearly demonstrate that rulemaking is overdue.”
Based in Montpelier, Vermont, Standing Trees works to protect and restore forests on New England’s public lands.