The struggle to preserve and restore wilderness is a long-distance relay race. Our efforts build on those of dedicated activists over the past century and, here in what we now call Vermont, on the care given to the Abenaki people since time immemorial.
Last summer, my family marveled at a close encounter with a bald eagle while paddling through a quiet backwater on the Connecticut River. Just a generation ago, such an encounter would have been unthinkable – bald eagles nearly disappeared from New England thanks to the use of the pesticide DDT. Today, thanks to the efforts of tireless advocates and visionaries like Rachel Carson, bald eagles are just one of many species that have returned to at least parts of their historic range in the northeastern United States. United States, from beavers to pine martens to moose.
It is up to us to ensure that this remarkable story of recovery continues and spreads to other species. And yet, as we all know, the game is stacked against the species we share Earth with, including here in our home of Green Mountain.
What will it take to bring the wolf back? Lynx ? The catamaran? The salmon? The glutton? The momentum? Just what will it take to keep the animals we are lucky enough to still have with us today?
Each successive generation must take over from leaders like Rachel Carson and the countless others who have gone before us. In December, we lost another champion — renowned biologist and naturalist Edward (EO) Wilson.
EO Wilson has educated the world about the beautiful biodiversity of our planet as we know it, as well as the eight million species he estimates we are still unaware of. I admire him the most for his courage in issuing a clear call to action for half the planet to be permanently protected for the sake of nature, the vision of “half-Earth” that he laid out in his 2016 book of the same name. At the time, many scientists and policymakers scoffed at such a bold statement. But Ed had the last word. Five years later, dozens of nations, a growing number of US states, and tribal nations across North America have all pledged to protect 30% of the planet by 2030 as an interim step towards protecting 50% by 2050.
Only permanently protected landscapes, free from commercial logging and road construction, are guaranteed to one day restore the native forest ecosystems of northern New England. Today, these wild lands represent only 3% of Vermont. The science behind the 30×30 movement makes it clear that we need to increase the amount of permanently protected wild lands to provide the clean drinking water, flood risk reduction and carbon storage we desperately need to cope. to the challenges of our rapidly changing climate.
Fortunately, all that is needed to restore New England’s natural forests is a dose of humility and the gift of time. A lot of time. As the trees age. Fall on it. Rot and feed the soil. And let this process repeat itself year after year, for centuries.
Vermont’s new Climate Action Plan (CAP) directs the state to “increase the pace of permanent conservation toward 30×30 goals.” Guided by Vermont Conservation Design, a report produced by the Natural Resources Agency in 2018 to maintain the state’s biodiversity, CAP recommends that 9% of Vermont’s forests be restored to their native, wild, old-growth state, type of forests in which our spectacular native biodiversity – and our sophisticated indigenous cultures – have evolved over millennia.
The Climate Action Plan may be our collective compass, pointing us in the right direction, but we’re still missing a map to show us the path to conserving 30% of Vermont’s land by 2030 and 50 % by 2050. Vermont has a golden opportunity to chart the way forward with H.606, the Community Resilience and Biodiversity Protection Act, currently under consideration by the House of Commons committee. Vermont Legislature on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife. This simple but essential bill would require the state, with input from stakeholders, to develop a plan that will lead us to a truly resilient future.
If you too share a vision for setting our state on a path to a more balanced, biodiverse, and stable future, please reach out to your local representatives and indicate your support for H.606.
Twenty years ago, EO Wilson wrote: “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. Vermont has gathered all the evidence it needs to act. It’s time to find the moral courage to use it wisely.
Zack Porter is director of Standing Trees and lives in Montpellier.