The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation was committed to
collaborating with the public to create a plan that considered public
concerns, values, and expectations. During the process over 800 formal
comments were received from a variety of sources: written letters, email
messages, and telephone conversations, as well as interviews and comments
from attendees of 14 separate meetings held around the state. In addition,
a Steering Committee made up of 30 individuals met 13 times over the course
of 2 years, providing thoughtful and thorough review of public involvement
and drafts of the forest resource plan itself.
The public involvement activities associated with the development of
the plan can be broken down into four broad areas: the Forest Resource
Plan Steering Committee, two rounds of public meetings, a series of personal
interviews, and requests for written comments. Each activity will be reviewed
in terms of objectives, public input, and outcomes.
Forest Resource Plan Steering Committee
The role of the Forest Resource Plan Steering Committee has been highlighted
in previous sections of the plan. As the key advisory body to the department
during the planning process, the Steering Committee reviewed comments
provided by the public and made recommendations on appropriate changes
to the draft plan. Although consensus was sought during committee meetings,
it was not expected on every issue. Areas where consensus was not found
included suggesting an update of the 1986 Forest Resource Plan versus
a complete rewrite; limiting the plan to issues relating to public land
only; elimination of the use of terms such as biodiversity, sustainability,
and ecological processes; and disagreements over the acquisition and management
strategies for public land. The Steering Committee served an important
purpose and based upon an evaluation report prepared by the meeting facilitator,
the committee showed general acceptance of the process followed. Compromises
on some issues left some members unsatisfied with the outcome. For its
part, the department took the recommendations of the Steering Committee
seriously and feel that the final plan is a clear reflection of much of
Committee members recommended several significant changes to the plan
due to the public comments received. Among the specific changes recommended
by the steering committee are the following:
- A glossary of terminology used in the plan;
- A section defining the role of the department in the management of
public and private forest land;
- Separating actions that deal with either public or private forest
- Improved language relating to the vision statement and desired future
The committee members disagreed on several suggested changes as well.
Suggestions that had no committee consensus and were rejected by the department
included an explicit statement in defense of private property rights,
putting a cap on state land acquisition, and elimination of some commonly
used forestry terms.
As noted in the Planning Process Summary located in appendix A, two sets
of public meetings were held around the state during two distinct phases
of the planning process. The first set of meetings in October 1997 were
held in Springfield, Rutland, Essex, Randolph, Island Pond, Wilmington,
and Morrisville. Approximately 250 individuals attended the first set
of meetings. The goal of the department was twofold: to receive feedback
on the vision statement developed by the Steering Committee and to identify
issues and opportunities to be addressed as actions in the plan.
There were several recurring themes expressed at every meeting as well
as some substantial regional variations. Participants readily expressed
their views on the draft plan and on what they considered to be the impacts,
issues, and opportunities facing Vermont's forests in the years ahead.
Familiar themes at every meeting included the perceived impacts the plan
would have on private property owners and property rights, acquisition
and management strategies on public lands, the need for more education
of the general public on forestry issues, and the advantages of separating
planning and policy in regard to public and private land. These issues,
along with recommendations for specific language changes in the vision
statement and the desired future conditions, were summarized and forwarded
to the Steering Committee. Issues and opportunities identified by participants
were used to pare the 600 possible actions down to over 300 recommended
actions for the committee to review.
second set of public meetings occurred in May 1998 at the same locations,
with the exception of Berlin and Lyndonville being substituted for Randolph
and Island Pond. At this point in the planning process, the department
and the Steering Committee were looking for specific feedback on the draft
plan to date, focusing on the list of recommended actions. Approximately
150 people attended the second set of meetings. Although fewer people
were in attendance, the second set of meetings found attendees polarized
over a variety of issues and concerns. Three areas of public concern dealt
with the following issues:
1. The role of government relating to Vermont's forest land. This tended
to include the broader property rights issues regarding government's role
in the management of private forest land, and defining such public values
as water quality and wildlife habitat associated with private land.
2. The variety of uses on public land, both relating to future land acquisition
and the management strategy of current state ownership. As demands on
public land increase and the values people place on public land change,
the issue of conflicting uses becomes more common.
3. Public expectations in natural resource planning and decision-making.
People attend meetings to be heard and have their thoughts represented
in the plan. The department had the task of incorporating input where
appropriate, but many in attendance felt that their issues were either
not being addressed or not given proper priority.
The department recognized the frustration from some of those attending
the public meetings regarding a perceived increase in the role government
plays in the lives of every citizen. This has economic, ecological, and
social impacts on the forest resource and the people who own, manage,
and enjoy it. The department has sought to involve the public, through
the regional meetings, in a knowledgeable discussion of the issues and
opportunities facing Vermont's forests in the years ahead. We have made
many improvements to the plan based upon public comments. However, as
a public forestry agency, we also have a responsibility to the resource
and to be a representative for the common good.
A complete record of public comments was compiled, including minutes
from every meeting as well as a summary of all meetings combined into
one document. Written comments may also be reviewed upon request.
A planning consultant hired by the department to facilitate steering
committee meetings and provide additional planning assistance conducted
personal telephone interviews with key forestry professionals in Vermont.
These 15 individuals were selected from a list generated by the Steering
Committee and represented many interest groups from foresters to forest
landowners, from environmental advocates to forest industry to state legislators.
Their feedback to the vision statement and the list of suggested plan
actions was forwarded to the Steering Committee for their deliberations.
The general consensus in the interviews was that much of the adverse reaction
to state forest resource planning is a reaction to legislative action
regarding heavy-cut regulations and an increase in acquisition of public
land. Tensions between timber and environmental interests will continue;
however, it was important to maintain dialogue between the two groups.
In December 1998, a revised draft of the Forest Resource Plan was presented
to the Steering Committee and was made available to the general public
for written comment. Reviewers were asked to provide specific written
comments on all elements of the plan, referring to pages and sections
where appropriate. A total of 18 comments were received from the public
and Steering Committee members. Public comments were evenly split between
those positive and negative of the plan contents. Specific recommendations
regarding changes in language were accommodated where appropriate. Steering
Committee comments focused more on the organization of the document. Issues
relating to the intent of the plan when dealing with private property
were again raised. The department attempted to address these issues by
re-emphasizing the important values and benefits private forest landowners
provide to Vermont.
The public involvement process provided an opportunity for citizens to
provide input into the development of a plan to guide both the policies
and actions of the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. Public
input and the reaction by segments of the public have shown that public
forest policy is far from a benign issue. The department has attempted
to craft a document which will allow real progress in addressing the needs
and problems associated with a dynamic natural resource while at the same
time allaying concerns about more political matters. Without debate between
involved and informed individuals, no progress can be made.
For a compilation of public input received during the 2-year planning
process for the 1999 Vermont Forest Resource Plan, please contact our