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Champion Debate

05/28/02 12:00AM By Sam Lloyd
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In 1997 Vermont was presented with a genuine once-in-a-century opportunity. Champion International Corp. put 132,000 acres of Northeast Kingdom forestland up for sale, 22,000 acres of which were conveyed to the State for the West Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

The Legislature authorized the Agency of Natural Resources to create a conservation and public easement to assure public access on the land. Over two years, the Agency involved every interested public and private entity in producing a plan that forever guaranteed access for hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, biking and snowmobiling on all 132,000 acres.

Logging would continue on 84,000 acres passing into private ownership, and in a 9,500 acre game and non-game wildlife Management Zone. The remaining 12,500 West Mountain acres, containing rare and unusual ecological resources, would be managed without logging.

Champion had limited camp leases to 5 years. In the 12,500 acre reserve the Agency proposed to phase out leases after the lifetime of the leaseholder plus 20 years for heirs.

Some legislators now insists on never-ending leases, thus assuring virtual ownership of this public land by private individuals - a dangerous precedent. This year, a nice piece of Vermont's West Mountain. Next year, why not a piece of Yellowstone National Park? Worse, a few of the legislators voting on this are themselves leaseholders, despite House rules governing conflict of interest.

Also under attack is the prohibition of logging in the 12,500 acre reserve. But I find it hard to fault maintaining this environmentally sensitive land for recreation free of roads and noise - especially since logging is specifically encouraged on the vast majority of the 132,000 acres.

It's inconceivable to me that greed and narrow self-interest may derail this plan in the Legislature's final days. The agreement should stand.

I'm Sam Lloyd from Weston.

Sam Lloyd is an actor and former legislator; active in community, environmental and education issues.

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