There are few places in this country where humans have limited their
footprint on the land and left wildlife, forests, rivers and mountains
alone in their natural state.
What does it say about us that we insist on making our presence heard,
seen and felt almost everywhere in our nation, including the most remote
and isolated corners?
When the decisions were made to protect certain lands as national parks
and forests, it was wisely thought that there must be special places in
America that are set apart from the daily clamoring – natural refuges
that are shielded today and passed on tomorrow to the next generation.
With national forests, it was acknowledged that there would be many
demands, including recreational activities, a healthy wood supply, clean
water and protected wildlife habitat.
It’s not easy to strike a balance, and that’s where the friction arises.
In Vermont, it is playing out as the U.S. Forest Service is faced with
delivering a new management plan for the Green Mountain National Forest,
a 400,000-acre parcel of public land in central and southern Vermont.
It’s important to get this plan right because it will determine how the
national forest is managed for the next 10 to 15 years.
The Forest Service is receiving serious push-back, particularly from
environmentalists, on a draft plan for the forest that was presented in
April after about three years of public meetings and consultation.
One of the most contentious issues has to do with opening up the Green
Mountain National Forest to all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). The Forest
Service is considering allowing limited ATV use in areas of the forest
that would link up with trails on nearby private lands.
ATVs don’t belong in the Green Mountain National Forest. Noisy machines
that rip up the forest floor and disturb animal habitat clash
irreconcilably with the quiet of the woods where people and animals seek
solitude. The Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail cut through this
forest. These are too important to Vermont to be undermined.
Even the most conscientious ATV driver can’t help but leave ruts behind
— and in an ecologically sensitive forest, that is needless trashing.
While ATVs can be a boon to farmers and fun for kids on the back-40, the
harm they would do to the national forest far outweighs any public benefit.
When the Forest Service presents its final plan, expected in February or
March, it should stay firm on its current ATV ban.
Apart from the forest management plan, the Forest Service is also
considering a proposal to allow 20 to 30 industrial wind turbines on two
mountain ridges in the Green Mountain National Forest. These whirling
monoliths, 370 feet tall and higher, don’t belong on Vermont’s mountain
tops and they have no place in the national forest.
The Forest Service should just say no. No ATVs on the forest floor, no
wind towers on the ridge lines. It shouldn’t open the door to these
intrusions, not even a crack.
Instead of stomping heavily and leaving our mark on the Green Mountain
National Forest, let us try to walk gently without a trace.