This comment from State Representative Katherine Sims, D-Craftsbury, is submitted by the Vermont House Rural Economic Development Working Group. The tripartite group works to advance laws and policy initiatives that will strengthen the economy in Vermont’s rural communities.
Land of work is central to Vermont’s identity. Vermont is the state with the fourth largest forest cover, with 4.5 million acres of forest covering a whopping 75% of the landscape.
Vermonters have worked in the woods, played in the woods, and used wood products for generations. How we care for our forests has a direct impact on our environment, our culture, our economy and our future. Forests provide habitat, carbon sequestration, clean water and clean air.
They are also the source of wood, the renewable material that we use in our daily life. When we use wood for building, heating and manufacturing, we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and thus reduce emissions.
To reap the benefits of both standing forests and wood products, we must make it practical for Vermonters to own and properly manage woodland.
Instead, we are losing woodland to development at the rate of about 11,000 acres per year.
So what now?
To answer that question, a tripartite group of over 30 lawmakers formed a summer study group and visited locations across the state. Our group interviewed loggers, landowners, foresters and business owners from across the Vermont forestry sector.
Among them was Chris Brooks, a fifth generation lumberjack who owns the Vermont Wood Pellet Co. in North Clarendon. Brooks told us that wood pellet heating is the future. Cleaner, more efficient and cheaper heating with wood pellets will reduce our dependence on fossil oil and keep those dollars local.
Long View Forest is an employee-owned Westminster forest operation that combats stereotypes about lumberjacks. Her crew of more than 20 people, mostly made up of young people, is committed to helping customers achieve the “almost universal but elusive goal of getting out of the country better than we found it”.
Vermonters working in the industry today are environmentally conscious, innovative, and willing to work together to protect and preserve Vermont’s forests and forestry. They view wood as a safe, renewable resource that is more environmentally friendly than concrete, steel, or plastic – one way to reduce our state’s carbon footprint.
A thriving, modern forest industry is Vermont’s best tool for ensuring healthy, sustainable forests and healthy, sustainable communities. But Vermont forest operations face a number of threats. Doing business is expensive, profits drop, interest in the field diminishes, and government regulations make it nearly impossible to be successful.
LSF Forest Products plays a vital role as one of only two remaining sawmills in Franklin County. The family business wants to expand, but according to owner Tucker Riggs, the Act 250 approval process is slowing them down: “It’s expensive and time consuming and has already delayed our expansion process at a time of record demand for our products. ”
To support existing and potential forest-based businesses working on the sustainable management of Vermont woodlands, we recommend that Legislature establish the Vermont Forest Future Program to stabilize and strengthen Vermont forestry for 10 years.
This program brings together key stakeholders to create an action plan that identifies infrastructure investments and public policy recommendations that will promote economic development, sustainably manage wood resources and develop the workforce for the future.
We also recommend Vermont:
- Start a program to support community fuel conversion, including modern wood heating.
- Modernize Act 250 for forestry operations and recreational routes.
- Update forest transport regulations.
We will introduce these recommendations at the beginning of the 2022 legislative period as part of a draft law for the rural omnibus.
Decisions and actions taken today will affect our forests and our economies for years to come. The state of Vermont is already investing in agriculture, celebrating it and educating consumers about it. We need to invest and raise awareness in our vital forest industry, the other half of Vermont’s workspace.
If we care about Vermont forests and the rural communities of Vermont, we must save Vermont forestry.