- Associated Press - Sunday, November 23, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - New management plans for a vast section of Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom - an area that was the focus of a protracted and bitter dispute after a timber company put 132,000 acres of land up for sale in 1998 - includes management strategies for returning wildlife and makes adaptions for climate change.

The management plan by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources also increases public access to the 22,000-acre West Mountain Wildlife Management Area, the state’s largest, and ensures the area is protected.

The new plan developed over the last 18 months for West Mountain and land now owned by the Plum Creek Timber Company did not provoke the kind of debates seen in the the late 1990s and early 2000s before the first plan was written in 2002.

“The bottom line is the agency and the partners were able to come up with something that everybody is feeling OK about,” said Phil Huffman, the director of landscape conservation and policy for the Vermont chapter of the Nature Conservancy, which worked on the plan.

Clint Gray, a vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs who lives in Sutton, not far from the Kingdom Lands, said people who use the land have become accustomed to the original management plan.

“The next 10 years looks like it’s basically going to mirror with some very minor changes … like what it has been in the past,” Gray said.

In 1998 Champion International sold 132,000 acres of land in northeastern Vermont. Through a complex partnership developed over several years the lands were divided into three parcels.

Now called the Kingdom Heritage Lands, the tracts include the 23,000 acres of the West Mountain, 26,000 acres of the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge and 184,000 acres now owned by Plum Creek. The original plan guaranteed public access to the Plum Creek land.

West Mountain includes a 12,500-acre “core area” where the public will have access, but there will be otherwise “minimal human intervention.”

The original debate pitted environmentalists against hunting, fishing and logging interests as well those wanting access to scores of privately leased camps on the remote wetlands, streams and forests that are home to many forms of wildlife. The lands are also popular for bird-watching, snowmobiling, and horseback riding.

The updated 10-year plan includes management strategies for rare species not considered when the original plan was devised; both the American marten and Canada lynx are moving back into the areas. The plan also adopts methods to improve flood resilience in the face of climate change.

The plan also adds up to 15 miles of public access on roads into the Plum Creek land that will help reach the periphery of the core area. A new bridge and a series of trails will lead into the core area, said Doug Morin, a state land biologist for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.


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