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West Mountain

01/29/02 12:00AM

In remote woods of the Northeast Kingdom, gray jays float like ghosts at the treetops, white-tailed deer hide in thick stands of spruce and balsam fir, and I suspect the elusive bog elfin butterfly remains to be discovered. But up in the Kingdom we are witnessing the destruction of Vermont's famous environmental ethic. The Vermont Legislature may very well ruin the agreement that protects 133,000 acres of the former Champion timberlands, including the innovative West Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

To hear if from West Mountain's opponents, the conservationists tricked the Legislature into establishing an exclusive refuge for Lycra-clad mountain-bikers and tree-hugging birdwatchers at West Mountain, and that poor folks are being driven from their hunting camps and favorite fishing holes. Don't believe it.

Hunting, fishing, trapping and snowmobiling will continue throughout the former Champion timberlands. It says so clearly in the state's blueprint for West Mountain and in legal documents covering the property. But that still isn't enough for the lawmakers who would kill this amazing conservation deal. They're now demanding that every acre of this land be open to logging.

Wait a minute! Isn't it enough that 84,000 acres out of the original 133,000 were sold to a timber company? Isn't it enough that logging will most certainly continue on portions of another 26,000 acres sold to the US Fish and Wildlife Service?

Apparently not. The opponents have their sights on the remaining 22,000 acres in state ownership. That's the West Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

If West Mountain remains protected, our kids and their kids will see the rise of an old-growth forest and its assemblages of rare and common plants and animals. But here's something I'll bet you don't know about this land. Almost half the land within the wildlife management area will be subject to logging, including small clear cuts. On the remaining 12,500 acres, only 9 percent of the total Champion lands, will logging be prohibited.

In years to come this ecological reserve would be remote, wild, open to discovery, open to hunters and anglers, open to us all, full of secrets and full of promise. It will be unique. But some lawmakers want to kill it. A bill in the Vermont House - H.567 - would put into law the statement: "¿logging shall be considered fully compatible with and supportive of `protection of natural resources.'"

I've got nothing against logging. It's great for the Vermont economy and for game species - deer and grouse and showshoe hare. The bill makes token reference to wildlife habitat and sites with rare plants or animals. But there's more to natural resources than the animals we shoot. In no way is logging "fully compatible" with scarlet tanagers, black-throated blue warblers, spotted salamanders, delta-spotted spiketail dragonflies, orchids, lichens, mosses and hundreds of other species that'll thrive in undisturbed woodlands. That's what the ecological reserve is all about.

Some lawmakers now claim they were never told ago about plans to protect a portion of this property. That's also fiction. To suggest that the Vermont conservationists who made the Champion deal happen in the first place wouldn't want at least some of this land simply left alone to grow wild amounts to rewriting history.

Our lawmakers need to hear from us that West Mountain must be fully protected. To do otherwise would break a promise made when Vermonters of all kinds came together three years ago to protect this wild place for timber production, traditional uses and provide for the full protection of natural resources.

From Bartlett Hill in Plainfield, I'm Bryan Pfeiffer.

--Brian Pfeiffer is a writer and professional nature guide.

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