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TAKE ACTION: Protect and Restore Vermont's Native Ecosystems!

Updated: Apr 5

by Zack Porter


Published January 26, 2022; Updated April 5, 2022


Editor's Note: On March 16th, thanks to your advocacy, H606 (The Community Resilience and Biodiversity Protection Act) passed the Vermont House and transferred to the Senate. To ensure that H606 is debated and voted on by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, please contact committee members and politely request their support for H606. You can send an email to committee members by copying and pasting the following emails into the "to" field of your email:

cbray@leg.state.vt.us, rawestman@gmail.com, mmacdonald@leg.state.vt.us, bcampion@leg.state.vt.us, rmccormack@leg.state.vt.us


Raise your voice for Vermont's wild places

Vermont’s new Climate Action Plan directs the state to “Increase the pace of permanent conservation towards 30x30 targets.” Why permanent conservation? Why protect more wildlands? Intact, wild ecosystems support our native biodiversity, sequester and store vast amounts of planet-warming carbon, and protect our communities from droughts, floods, and other impacts of climate change.

House Bill H606, introduced by Rep. Amy Sheldon, Chair of the Vermont House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, would require Vermont to act on the recommendations in the Climate Action Plan by making a plan to conserve 30% of Vermont by 2030, and 50% by 2050. We are especially grateful that the bill calls for an increase in areas managed as wildlands from the current level of 3% to approximately 10% of Vermont.


Want to learn more about 30x30?

Click on the image below to watch a fantastic presentation on 30x30 by Standing Trees partner and global protected areas expert, Jamison Ervin. Then scroll down to continue reading this blog...

Background

New England states like to pat themselves on the back for how "forested" they are. But when do trees become a "forest"? At Standing Trees, we know that a forest = trees + time. Lots of time. Time for trees to grow, to fall over, to rot and feed the soil. And for this process to be repeated countless times, century after century. A healthy New England forest is a rarity: just 1/10 of 1% of our landscape resembles the true forests of our region. Only permanently protected landscapes, free of commercial logging and road construction, are guaranteed to someday restore our native ecosystems and the biodiversity they support. These are places where natural processes shape the ebb and flow of life. In northern New England, these processes are primarily wind, ice, and beavers.*


Vermont Conservation Design, a report produced by the state of Vermont in 2018, has this to say about the evolution of Vermont's native biodiversity:

“The state’s native flora and fauna that have been here prior to European settlement are adapted to this landscape of old, structurally complex forest punctuated by natural disturbance gaps and occasional natural openings such as wetlands or rock outcrops. The complex physical structure of old forests creates diverse habitats, many of which are absent or much less abundant in younger forests.”


How much is currently protected? How far do we have to go?

The map below shows how little of Vermont's lands are currently managed as wildlands, classified as "GAP 1" by the US Geological Survey (the green shaded areas). GAP 1 lands are only 3% of Vermont, and it's a similar average across New England states. The Global Deal for Nature, or the scientific underpinning of the 30x30 movement, says that we must increase the amount of GAP 1 lands. How far behind is New England? New York exceeds 10%. California is over 15%.

We can measure our progress towards forest ecosystem protection and restoration against several large landscape conservation visions that have gained traction in the past fifteen years. In 2006, Wildlands and Woodlands, a program of Harvard Forest and Highstead Foundation, produced a widely supported vision for New England that included a goal for 10% of all regional forestlands to be conserved as wildlands. Fifteen years later, relatively little progress has been made toward the 10% goal, despite excellent progress towards conserving forests for extraction of wood products, which now comprise nearly a quarter of the region's forests (see the yellow GAP 3 lands on the map above).


More recently, based on the rapid decline of wildlife species and abundance and the rapid degradation of the climate, scientists have suggested that much more aggressive measures must be taken to stave off climate and extinction catastrophe. The 2019 Global Deal for Nature (the inspiration for “30x30”) calls for 30% of lands and waters to be permanently protected as GAP 1 and 2 by 2030 to maintain and restore biodiversity, with an additional 20% percent conserved to stabilize the climate. The Biden Administration endorsed the 30x30 vision during its election campaign, and several states, tribes, and nations around the globe have also joined the movement.


It's time for Vermont to join other states and nations that are leading the way forward. Does our "Brave Little State" have the courage to chart a new course in the face of climate change and extinction?


Thanks for contacting the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy to share your support for H606!



*A note about the historic role of fire in shaping the New England landscape:

As a partner and ally of our regional indigenous community, Standing Trees recognizes that fire has long been an important management tool of New England's indigenous cultures. Fire was historically used to create forest openings and encourage growth of desired species, among other purposes. However, it's important to note that intensive fire management was never widespread across what we would now call northern New England. Large openings in the forest were rare, with the exception of wetlands. Fire management was concentrated in areas around settlements, travel corridors, and areas used for cultivation, foraging or hunting. The majority of the region's forests evolved with frequent low-intensity disturbance (small-scale wind and ice damage, for example), and infrequent high-intensity disturbance (hurricanes, tornados, fire, etc). For more information on this complex and often fraught topic, we encourage reading this study, this response, and this reply.


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