Vt. delegation seeks more wilderness

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) – Vermont’s congressional delegation wants to add 48,161 acres of wilderness land to the Green Mountain National Forest, more than twice the amount the U.S. Forest Service has proposed.

The three lawmakers on Thursday proposed the Vermont Wilderness Act of 2006. It includes a new wilderness area of 12,437 acres on mountains in Hancock and Goshen near the Breadloaf wilderness area south of Middlebury.

The area would be named after Joseph Battell of Middlebury, who donated thousands of acres of land for public use in the 1990s and requested that it not be logged.

The U.S. Forest Service recently suggested adding 27,473 acres of preserved wilderness.

Vermont’s congressional delegation said its bill “closely resembled” the Forest Service plan.

The wilderness designation would prohibit motorized vehicles and commercial logging in the protected areas.

“Our legislation is a compromise between those who would prefer significant additions in wilderness areas and those who would prefer none,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said.

Leahy, Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., and Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said some Vermonters would oppose the proposal.

“Many Vermonters disagree with the need for any wilderness designations, much less additional lands to be set aside at this time,” Jeffords said. “I understand their concerns, but I also recognize the intent of the Wilderness Act of 1964, and I believe deeply in the benefits of managing some areas so that the forces of nature hold sway.”

The measure will be decided by a largely Republican Congress, which generally has not supported protecting federal lands as wilderness.

Norm Arseneault, a forester and chairman of the Granville select board, is against the proposal.

“The Forest Service found no social need for more wilderness, no economic need, no biodiversity need and no research need,” he said. “So, of course, they recommended another 27,000 acres and now the delegation has made it worse.”

Supporters of wilderness praised the proposed protection of 12,000 acres in the Romance Mountain-Monastery Mountain area in Goshen and Hancock.

The bill “is absolutely the right thing to do,” said Jim Northup of Richmond, head of Forest Watch. “Lasting protection of those rugged mountains would fulfill Battell’s last wishes and would provide a fitting final chapter to his wildlands legacy.”

Land in the town of Glastenbury in the southern part of the state also would be designated wilderness. The bill would protect more than 20,000 acres in that area, or 5,000 acres more than the Forest Service had suggested.

The Green Mountain National Forest totals more than 400,000 acres. Already, 59,000 acres are designated wilderness.

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