Energy & Environment

Vermont rejects petition to create new rules for land management on Camel’s Hump

Camel's Hump seen from Morristown. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The person who directs oversight of Vermont’s public lands has denied an environmental group’s petition to create and adopt a set of formal rules to govern the lands’ management, which supporters say is urgent in the face of climate change. 

Michael Snyder, of the state Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, contended that the department already has sufficient rules to guide the process.

The petition filed last month by Standing Trees related to the Camel’s Hump Management Unit, which includes Camel’s Hump State Park, Camel’s Hump State Forest and the Robbins Mountain and Huntington Gap wildlife management areas, but could have affected management of other public lands had the rulemaking process moved forward. 

Standing Trees, an organization that advocates for the protection of forests on public lands, argued that the rulemaking process is required by state law

The petitioners asked the department to adopt rules related to “the harvesting and cutting of trees” in state forests, parks and natural areas, and demanded a moratorium on logging in Camel’s Hump State Park and surrounding lands in the absence of that rulemaking process. 

They requested a new set of rules that would more deeply consider current state policies and research “pertaining to the lost sequestration of carbon and the effects on greenhouse gas emissions, water quality, biodiversity, endangered species protection, habitat fragmentation, and the public trust in deciding whether to authorize any proposed harvest or cutting of trees on State Forest and Park lands.”

Published in 2021, the Camel’s Hump management plan allows harvesting about 3,750 acres of timber from the 26,000-acre management area over the next 15 years. A number of state policies, cited by Snyder in his response to the petition, encourage timber harvesting on state lands. 

“Any productive conversation regarding use of State lands should acknowledge the clear directives and statements of policy by the General Assembly recognizing the importance of timber harvesting for maintaining Vermont’s forests,” he stated in his response last week.

Zack Porter, executive director of Standing Trees, said the group’s members are “less than satisfied with the response that we were given from the state,” Porter said, “and continue to investigate the legalities of it.”

He described the current management process of public lands as a “choose your own adventure” for the state. He said more guardrails and accountability measures should guide decisions about logging on public lands. The U.S. Forest Service has such rules, he said. 

Members of Standing Trees and the petition’s 38 signatories based their efforts on a Vermont law that requires a state agency to begin the rulemaking process if “25 or more persons request that an existing practice or procedure be adopted by rulemaking,” they wrote in the petition.

In response, Snyder cited exemptions included in that law, which state that the agency can issue a declaratory ruling that “disposes of the question presented” if a rule is already in place. 

Responding to the request for a moratorium on logging, Snyder wrote that lawmakers in Vermont have directed the department to harvest timber and sell forest products, and that lawmakers specifically required a timber management area within the Camel’s Hump Management Unit. 

Snyder wrote that the management plan for Camel’s Hump “​​is clearly consistent with the multi-use approach authorized and directed by the General Assembly and appropriately protective of endangered species and their habitats.” 

Porter said Snyder’s response missed the point of the petition, which was to change the process that shapes public land management. 

Lawmakers, Porter said, have “required our commissioners to promulgate rules, which govern the way state land long-range management plans are put together, so that the public isn't guessing every single time what that process is going to look like.”

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Emma Cotton

About Emma

Emma Cotton is a Report for America corps member who covers the environment, climate change, energy and agriculture. Previously, she covered Rutland and Bennington counties for VTDigger, wrote for the Addison Independent and served as assistant editor of Vermont Sports and VT Ski + Ride magazines. Emma studied marine science and journalism at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Email: [email protected]

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