Updated: Nov 29, 2022
Litigation calls for transparency and accountability in state land decisions; Long term plans for state lands like Camel’s Hump State Park have been approved without legally-mandated rulemaking
For Immediate Release: November 23, 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
Mark Nelson, firstname.lastname@example.org, 973-943-9471
MONTPELIER, VT - On Wednesday November 23rd, the Vermont-based nonprofit organization Standing Trees and co-plaintiffs Jamison Ervin and Alan Pierce of Duxbury, VT filed litigation in Washington County Superior Court against the State of Vermont to force transparency and accountability in state land decision-making, as required by law. The lawsuit requests a halt to as-yet unbid logging proposed in State Forests, Parks, and Wildlife Management Areas, including 3,750-acres of logging proposed over the next fifteen years in the recently-issued plan for the Camel’s Hump Management Unit, until rulemaking is completed.
“Public forests are among our greatest bulwarks against climate change and extinction, but they’re being sold to the highest bidder while the public is kept in the dark about how decisions are made,” said Zack Porter, Executive Director of Standing Trees. “If successful, this lawsuit will put the public back in control of public lands.”
According to statute, Vermont’s Commissioner of Forests, Parks, and Recreation (FPR) as well as the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife (F&W), are required to promulgate rules – that is, formalize a set of safeguards and standards developed through a robust public process – to govern public land management. No such rules have ever been issued.
Management purposes of Vermont’s State Forests and Parks include sustaining long-term forest health, conserving and improving its soil resources, protecting natural beauty and wildlife, alleviating floods and soil erosion, and protecting the health and safety of the public. 10 V.S.A. § 2601. According to statute, Vermont’s Commissioner of Forests, Parks, and Recreation (FPR) is required to promulgate rules – that is, formalize a set of safeguards and standards developed through a robust public process – to support these purposes and govern uses and management actions in State Forests and State Parks. 10 V.S.A. § 2603. No such rules have ever been issued.
“The State of Vermont is sacrificing the public good and public safety for dubious economic gains,” commented Duxbury resident and co-plaintiff, Jamison Ervin, who has spent a career in natural resources management. “The public interest should come first in public land management, including tackling our climate emergency, safeguarding biodiversity, and protecting downstream communities – like Duxbury – from increasingly extreme storms, such as we saw with Hurricane Irene.”
The state of Vermont failed to implement the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) in the new Camel’s Hump Long Range Management Plan. The GWSA says “state agencies shall consider any increase or decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in their decision-making procedures with respect to the purchase and use of equipment and goods; the siting, construction, and maintenance of buildings; the assignment of personnel; and the planning, design, and operation of programs, services, and infrastructure.” 10 V.S.A. § 578. The Camel’s Hump Management Plan fails to consider greenhouse gas emissions from logging, something that would be remedied with a binding rule for developing and implementing long range management plans.
“Rulemaking in Vermont involves a rigorous public process followed by submission to the legislature,” commented James Dumont, Esq., of Bristol, VT, Standing Trees’ attorney. “Rulemaking ensures that the public’s interest is protected, and that the public knows how to engage in planning processes. To date, no rules have been issued to guide long range management planning on state lands.”
Over the past six months, Standing Trees and dozens of citizens submitted two administrative petitions to the State of Vermont to commence required rulemaking (see here and here), obtaining thousands of pages of documents through public records requests. As reported previously, the State of Vermont attempted to hide the results of a study commissioned to help improve state land management to boost flood resiliency. Although petitioners hoped the State of Vermont would take steps to follow the law and avoid litigation, the State has not committed to a timeline for initiating rulemaking, and has refused to halt logging before rules are completed.
“All we are asking is for our state agencies to do what they are required to do,” said Mark Nelson, Board Chair of Standing Trees. “Because they haven't, we have no choice but to take legal action."
Based in Montpelier, Vermont, Standing Trees works to protect and restore forests on New England’s public lands.