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Vermont Legislature Passes Bill to Protect Biodiversity and Support Climate Resilience

Montpelier Today, the Vermont Senate passed legislation to protect biodiversity and improve climate resilience (H.606). The bill passed on a unanimous voice vote. The bill now heads to the Governor for his signature. This policy was a recommendation of the state’s Climate Action Plan, adopted in December 2021.

This bill is a top priority of the Forest Partnership, which is composed of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, The Nature Conservancy in Vermont, Audubon Vermont, Trust for Public Land, Vermont Land Trust, and Vermont Conservation Voters.

Given current and future development pressures on Vermont’s landscape, alongside historic biodiversity loss and climate change, this bill calls for the creation of a statewide conservation plan that identifies a full range of conservation approaches to employ. Working with stakeholders from private landowners to land trusts, working land businesses, and the public at-large, the Agency of Natural Resources will be responsible for determining the tools, programs, and mechanisms needed to advance the conservation of 30% of our land by 2030 and 50% by 2050.

“As highlighted in H.606, working with willing landowners to achieve land conservation is a vital strategy to promote healthy forests, habitat connectivity, outdoor recreation, sustainable forestry, public health, and climate resilient communities,” said Jamey Fidel, Forest and Wildlife Program Director for Vermont Natural Resources Council. 

According to the U.S. Forest Service, Vermont is losing upwards of 14,500 acres of forestland per year to development, causing significant impacts to our forest ecosystem health and our natural and working lands economy. Informally referred to as “30 x 30”, this bill aligns Vermont with the federal America the Beautiful Initiative launched by President Biden in an Executive Order to “conserve, connect, and restore 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030 for the sake of our economy, our health, and our well-being.” 

“This would be an ambitious step towards protecting the state’s biodiversity, climate resiliency and making the outdoors accessible to all Vermonters,” noted Shelby Semmes, Vice President of Trust for Public Land, New England Region.

“At a time when Vermont’s forests and fields are bursting with the songs of recently returned migratory birds, our legislature has passed an important law requiring the state government to chart a path for protecting our natural and open spaces,” said David Mears, Executive Director of Audubon Vermont. “This law to protect biodiversity and promote climate resilience comes at a time when sprawl and the climate catastrophe have combined to create an unprecedented threat to the green hills and silver waters that Vermont’s birds, wildlife, and people need to thrive.”  

“In recognition of increasing climate change-driven natural hazards, coupled with unprecedented biodiversity collapse, the 30×30 conservation approach was identified as a priority climate adaptation and resilience strategy in the state’s Climate Action Plan late last year,” said Lauren Oates, Director of Policy & Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy in Vermont.  “We are grateful for the Legislature’s work in advancing this strategy and look forward to supporting the development of a comprehensive conservation plan for Vermont.”

Enactment of H.606 will:

  • Help implement Vermont’s Climate Action Plan by setting conservation goals for the State of Vermont; specifically, to conserve 30% of Vermont’s land by 2030, and 50% by 2050;
  • Require the Agency of Natural Resources to develop a plan to meet the conservation goals established in the bill. This plan would include a review of different conservation categories, an inventory of public and private land already conserved, and how current and future conservation practices and programs can be used to achieve conservation goals; and
  • Recognize that a full range of conservation approaches is needed working with willing landowners, including supporting private landowner education, technical assistance programs, and conservation easements and fee acquisitions that promote sustainable forest management and passive management.

“We appreciate the Legislature’s important work to protect Vermont’s wildlife and irreplaceable natural areas, and call on Governor Scott to sign this bill into law,” added Lauren Hierl, Executive Director of Vermont Conservation Voters.