Change to forest rules generates discussion among local loggers and foresters

ADDISON COUNTY — Although only about half of Addison County is forested, its mountains and the green forests that give them their name hold an even an larger place in many residents’ hearts.
Small wonder then, that even though Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation Forester Gary Sabourin described revised logging Acceptable Management Practices designed to protect Lake Champlain water quality as “tweaks” and “clarifications” (see related story), local responses were impassioned.
Bill Sayre, co-owner of Bristol’s A. Johnson Company, pointed to what he called the industry’s strong commitment to water quality over the near 30 years that AMPs have been in effect. 
“We felt in general they (AMPs) were working well, and they were working better every year. You have a strong commitment from the industry to finding ways to harvest the forest and manage the land and at the same time protect water quality,” said Sayre.
He said that while the forest products industry would abide by the revised state regulations, “in many ways we felt that the revisions, as well intended as they may be, were a solution in search of a problem.”
Sayre agreed with others the revisions did not bring major changes, but his concern is that should the regulatory climate change, the industry would not be able to operate with needed flexibility.
“When people are part of a regulatory regime that works pretty well for 30 years, it’s a natural apprehension to contemplate the nature and the extent of the change, which is different than if we said, ‘Well we’ve got a regulatory regime that isn’t working and what could we do to repair it?’” he said. “So the key concern that we have is that the new rules will be interpreted in such a way that reduces the flexibility and common sense application that we have enjoyed in a cooperative relationship under the old rules.”
Sayre pointed to the small number of water quality complaints logged with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation in 4.46 million acres of forest. He also said the industry has over the years devised approaches to improving forestry practices themselves, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, begun in the mid 1990s, which looked at logging economically while also protecting the environment.
On the other hand, Vermont Family Forests Executive Director David Brynn thinks the revisions weaken the AMPs and that the state must do more to protect the public’s vital interest in water quality.
“One of their strengths before the revision is that they were measurable. You could actually go into the woods … and you could see what was happening on the ground and you could compare that to what was considered to be an acceptable management practice,” Brynn said. “The tweaks that have been inserted undermine that considerably in that they say … something like ‘where appropriate,’ ‘when the site allows.’ Well, if the site doesn’t allow that, well maybe you shouldn’t have an access road there.”
Also missing from the revised AMPs, said Brynn, is planning for Irene-like storms that with climate change are expected to become more frequent, while the AMP accountability system — owners are liable only when discharge is detected — does too little to protect water quality.
“If you don’t have these practices in place and there’s no discharge detected you are home free,” said Brynn. “But these practices are expensive to put in place and so a lot of people say, ‘Well, what the heck, I’ll take the risk.’ And it’s not much of a risk because it’s difficult to detect the discharge. It’s really, really difficult.”
Brynn believes that water — not sap or timber — should be the state’s top concern in regulating forests.
“I firmly believe that water — clean, clear, highly oxygenated water — is the premier forest product. Water is held by the people of the state of Vermont. The state is our trustee, but we the people hold the water. We hold it in common. And these AMPs are the only real teeth that we the people have to conserve what is the premier forest product.”
Jodi Lathrop, business manager for Bristol’s Lathrop Forest Products, said sustainable logging, including protecting water quality, is already central to the multi-generational family company’s approach.
“Vermont loggers, Vermont generational loggers, take pride in what they do,” said Lathrop. “They don’t  necessarily care about being the biggest company or the biggest guy on the block. They just want to be the best at what they do. And once you do something that’s bad — that’s your name. So that old adage of a handshake and that’s your word and your name, most loggers in this business that I know that’s their philosophy: A man is only as good as his word and that’s what they go by.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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