(Host) The Douglas administration is being pressured to re-open the debate over public land in the Northeast Kingdom. A coalition of hunters, camp-owners and loggers wants Governor Jim Douglas to repeal a November executive order that was signed by former Governor Howard Dean. But other conservation and sporting groups say Dean’s executive order finally settled the dispute over how the Champion timberlands should be managed.
VPR’s John Dillon has more:
(Dillon) Last year, the Legislature spent weeks in debate over how the state should manage its 22,000-acre piece of the former Champion lands. Logging groups objected to the idea of an 11,000-acre ecological reserve that’s off limits to timber harvesting. Hunters worried that they could be kept off part of the property. And camp owners lobbied for permanent leases for their camps.
The legislative debate stalled last spring. And about a week before the November election, Governor Howard Dean signed an executive order that he said put an end to the Champion debate. The order made it clear that hunters and anglers had full access to all the land. It also set up an oversight panel to resolve disputes.
But the issue wasn’t settled for Steve McLeod, who represents the Vermont Traditions Coalition. He hopes that Governor Douglas will be more sympathetic and will rescind the executive order:
(McLeod) “There’s a couple main problems with it. Number one, it creates the illusion of being a solution to all of the Champion lands controversy when it fact it’s not. Number two, it appears to be the effort of an outgoing governor to reduce the ability of a duly elected governor to manage those lands.”
(Dillon) McLeod’s efforts to re-ignite the Champion debate is opposed by the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen, which represents hunters and anglers groups around the state. The federation has been in business for 128 years. President Bill Leipold says McCleod’s coalition – which includes industry and logging groups – wants to reopen commercial timber harvesting on the land:
(Leipold) “From the sportsmen’s point of view, we believe we have accomplished what was the intent of the original funding legislation. That is guaranteed access, management by Fish and Wildlife, ability to manage for wildlife throughout the property. We think that’s going to be effective for the sporting community.”
(Dillon) But Dean’s executive order didn’t address the concerns of the camp-owners who want permanent leases for their property. When the Champion paper company owned the land, the leases ran for five years. Under state ownership, the leases are now for the life of the owner, plus 20 years.
The owners would like the leases to run forever. Pat Berry of the Vermont Natural Resources Council says that extending the camp leases could be a financial windfall for the owners.
(Berry) “I think it’s an effort to make some money in the real estate market. That’s all I can see that’s left. Those camps weren’t much of anything under five years leases and now that these really good conservation organizations and the governor have protected the land forever, those camps are worth a lot of money now. And a camp owner could stand to make an awful lot of money if they had that right.”
(Dillon) McLeod of the Traditions Coalition says permanent leases wouldn’t change the value of the camps. He says the main problem is that the Champion management plans allows logging roads to be closed and keeps the ecological reserve.
Governor Douglas has been critical of the process that led to Champion management plan. The governor says he’s looking at the Dean executive order.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.