Environmental group critical of Laroche

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(Host) Environmentalists are upset with Governor Jim Douglas’ choice for Fish and Wildlife Commissioner. This week, the governor named Wayne Laroche of Franklin to the high-profile post. Laroche has been critical of the state’s management of the former Champion timberlands in the Northeast Kingdom.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Wayne Laroche is a wildlife biologist who runs a consulting firm. He’s studied sea lamprey in Lake Champlain and he’s testified on behalf of ski areas on their plans to draw river water for snowmaking.

Laroche’s recent positions on land management and wilderness issues concern environmentalists.
They’re worried that his appointment could rekindle the debate over the state owned Champion lands in the Northeast Kingdom. This week, Laroche said he didn’t know much about the Champion debate.

(Laroche) “I wasn’t here in the period of time when the Champion land issue was really hot, and in terms of my knowledge of the documentation of that whole issue and all the arguments, I’m not familiar enough with it to have an opinion.”

(Dillon) But environmentalists point to a recent opinion column that Laroche wrote in the Burlington Free Press. In that commentary, Laroche criticized the process that led to the creation of an 11,000-acre ecological reserve on the property, which is owned by the state. In his column Laroche said there were broken promises and backroom deals associated with the Champion lands. He said that reinforced a sense of distrust that traditional users of the land have for wilderness advocates.

Elizabeth Courtney is executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, a statewide environmental group.

(Courtney) “We believe he is anti-wilderness, anti-Champion and quite simply of late, anti-environmental. That’s what his editorial of the Burlington Free press January 10 reflects, an out and out belligerence to the conservation community.”

(Dillon) Laroche does have support from some hunters and anglers, including James Ehlers, the publisher of Vermont Outdoors magazine. Ehlers says Laroche has integrity and is a nationally recognized biologist. Laroche is also director of a sportsmen’s group that’s been critical of the state’s management of the Champion lands.

The group is the Hunters Anglers and Trappers Association of Vermont. They say that the Champion deal was the first step by environmentalists to bring what the group calls “restrictive ecological preserves” to every corner of the state.

Steve Wright is a former Fish and Wildlife commissioner who now works for the National Wildlife Federation. Wright says he was amazed to hear about Laroche’s unfamiliarity with the Champion debate. But Wright says he hopes the Champion issue is settled.

(Wright) “I would like to think we’re ready to move on from Champion and focus on the full array of wildlife resources, and not just focus entirely on things just to shoot and catch.”

(Dillon) Before he left office, Governor Howard Dean signed an executive order on Champion. The order guarantees public access to all the land and also leaves the ecological preserve intact. Governor Douglas is now under pressure by Champion critics to rescind Dean’s order.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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