Montpelier — Today, Governor Phil Scott signed a bill to expand Vermont’s Use Value Appraisal (“Current Use”) Program (H.697). The bill will create a new subcategory in Current Use called “reserve forestland” which will allow landowners to manage unique, qualifying parcels to create old forest conditions.
“This bill will alleviate pressure on landowners to convert old forests to more intensive uses, align the Current Use Program with the Climate Action Plan to promote old forests to help mitigate climate change, and help the Agency of Natural Resources meet its own conservation targets for old forest conditions in Vermont,” added Jamey Fidel, Forest and Wildlife Program Director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council.
The legislation builds on the Ecologically Significant Treatment Area (ESTA) category of Current Use by allowing parcels that have ecologically significant features and steep slopes to be enrolled and managed as old forests that do not need to be harvested, in alignment with a new category developed by the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.
The bill was the result of a two year process spearheaded by the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife and Commissioner Snyder and Keith Thompson of the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee also supported the bill, which passed with strong support in the House and Senate.
Tracy Zschau, Vice President for Land Protection at Vermont Land Trust noted “H.697 will strengthen the Current Use Program by increasing the amount of forest land that is eligible in a way that is practical, equitable, and fiscally conservative. This is a positive step forward for Vermont’s forests.”
“With the passage of this bill into law, Forests Parks and Recreation Commissioner Snyder has confirmed that he deserves his reputation as a ‘Forester for the Birds’,” said David Mears, Executive Director of Audubon Vermont. “ I am pleased that Commissioner Snyder and state elected leaders have now expanded Current Use, a proven conservation program, to incentivize protections for the forests so critical to Vermont’s birds, and other wildlife.”
“For so many communities across Vermont, protecting and promoting old forests is a priority, particularly as a tool to address climate change. As a conservation organization that puts community at its center, we applaud state leadership’s recognition of this shared Vermont value and a willingness to adapt the Current Use to the rapidly changing world around us”, said Shelby Semmes, New England Region Vice President for Trust for Public Land.
“As a conservation organization focused on reversing biodiversity loss and tackling climate change, we are thrilled to see H.697 pass into law today. This law will now strengthen our Current Use program by recognizing the essential role passively managed forests play in both supporting essential habitat and mitigating and adapting to our changing climate,” said Lauren Oates, Director of Policy & Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy in Vermont.
Recently, the Forest Partnership laid out the importance of a suite of priority bills that could make this “The Year of the Forest” in a commentary (available at: https://vnrc.org/the-year-of-the-forest/ ).
Lauren Hierl, Executive Director of Vermont Conservation Voters added, “Enacting this improvement to the Current Use Program is a positive but modest step forward for Vermont’s forests. Now we need the Governor to sign the rest of the complementary and essential forest policies passed by the Legislature this year – including better addressing forest fragmentation in Act 250 (S.234), and aligning Vermont with the national commitment and planning effort to conserve 30% of our lands by 2030, and 50% by 2050 (H.606), which will be fundamental to maintaining healthy ecosystems in the face of the simultaneous climate and biodiversity crises.”