by Mark Nelson
Editor’s note: This blog lays out the clear ways that the Green Mountain National Forest has broken the public’s trust and why it must stop its plans to log within the White Rocks National Recreation Area. Time is running out to comment on the Reduced Roads Supplemental Information Report for the Early Successional Habitat Creation Project. Please read this blog and then take action in defense of the White Rocks NRA!
National Recreation Areas (NRAs) in the United States are established by an Act of Congress to preserve enhanced recreational opportunities in places with significant natural and scenic resources. There are 40 NRAs nationwide, which emphasize a variety of activities for visitors, including hiking, camping, boating, fishing, swimming, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. NRA’s are managed by the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. We are fortunate to have two NRA’s in Vermont – the Robert T. Stafford White Rocks National Recreation Area, which was created by the Vermont Wilderness Act of 1984, and the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, which was created by the New England Wilderness Act of 2006.
During the debate and drafting of the Vermont Wilderness Act of 1984, there was conflict between conservation groups and snowmobile, hunting/trapping, and logging interests over the creation of additional wilderness areas in Vermont. One of the compromises was the designation of the White Rocks region of the Green Mountain National Forest as a National Recreation Area instead of Wilderness. The Robert T. Stafford White Rocks National Recreation Area is approximately 22,000 acres and includes the Big Branch Wilderness and Peru Peak Wilderness areas within its boundaries.
The Vermont Wilderness Act established that the White Rocks NRA will be managed “in order to preserve and protect [its] existing wilderness and wild values and to promote wild forest and aquatic habitat for wildlife, watershed protection, opportunities for primitive and semiprimitive recreation, and scenic, ecological, and scientific values.” In other words, the NRA should be managed to maintain or enhance the wild qualities that were present at the time of designation in 1984.
In 1983, Congressman James (Jim) Jeffords (who later became Senator Jeffords) supported the creation and protection of additional wilderness areas in Vermont. During the debates that occurred in Congress over the Vermont Wilderness Act of 1984, there was recognition that the final bill would need to be a compromise. On November 15, 1983, Congressman Jeffords spoke before the House of Representatives in support of the creation of four new Wilderness areas and the creation of a National Recreation Area – the White Rocks National Recreation Area (which was later renamed as the Robert T. Stafford White Rocks National Recreation Area to honor the late Vermont Governor and Senator, Robert T. Stafford).
During his speech on the House Floor, Congressman Jeffords was quite direct about the intention of the establishment and management of the White Rocks National Recreation Area. Here are a few of his comments from that debate - the following are direct quotes:
"The Vermont congressional delegation wants to indicate as clearly as possible that this area is intended for recreational purposes and is not intended as a timber stand."
"Specifically, this means that this land is of a predominantly roadless nature."
"The White Rocks area is the foundation of the compromise. The Vermont delegation expects that it will be managed by the Forest Service with special emphasis placed on maintaining existing roadless and wild values and preserving existing opportunities for primitive recreation."
"It is the unequivocal intention of the Vermont congressional delegation that this land should be managed as follows:
First. There should be no new road construction, including skid roads, with the possible exception of relocating portions of existing roads only for environmental reasons or building turnouts to facilitate access to trail heads. Existing roads not essential for the management of the area will be closed and allowed to revegetate.
Second. The use of wheeled vehicles-4-wheel drives, ATV's, motorcycles, and so forth-will be limited to roads currently passable by 2-wheel drive passenger cars. Wheeled vehicle use will be prohibited in the rest of the area.
Fourth. Timber harvest for commercial purposes shall not take place. Cutting of timber will be permitted only for preservation of existing wildlife habitat and will be limited to selective cutting in areas where access will not require new roadbuilding, skid roads, or any other disturbance of the land surface."
"The national recreation area (NRA) designation will provide the kinds of protection for these wild, valuable lands that they deserve while still allowing for existing local use patterns such as snowmobiling, hunting, fishing, and trapping."
Let’s compare Congressman Jeffords’ “unequivocal intention of the Vermont congressional delegation” about how the White Rocks National Recreation Area should be managed with how the Forest Service is actually managing this area in the Early Successional Habitat Creation Project (ESHC). The ESHC was approved in 2019 and authorizes 15,000 acres of logging over a fifteen-year period, including 2,500-acres of “even-aged management” (clearcutting and similar logging prescriptions) within the White Rocks NRA, involving miles of new roads and skid trails. Does this sound like it’s in keeping with the statutory requirement to “preserve and protect…existing wilderness and wild values and to promote wild forest and aquatic habitat for wildlife, watershed protection, opportunities for primitive and semi-primitive recreation, and scenic, ecological, and scientific values”?
Standing Trees thinks not.
Until Friday April 8th, the Green Mountain National Forest is accepting comments on its Reduced Roads Supplementary Information Report for the Early Successional Habitat Creation Project. This report is an opportunity to modify – and perhaps stop altogether – the damaging (and possibly illegal) logging plans that the GMNF is supporting within the White Rocks NRA.
Mark Nelson is Board President of Standing Trees