Land Trust Stiffs Brattleboro Area

The U.S. is losing 6,000 acres of open space to development every day, according to the Trust for Public Land. The Vermont Land Trust (VLT) is working to protect open space, which is one of the best ways to stop climate change. A Valley Post special investigation reveals that, over the past decade, VLT -- which gets most of its funding from taxpayers all over Vermont -- has focused its efforts much more heavily in the northern part of the state, versus the four southern counties of Vermont.

VLT president Nick Richardson told the Valley Post that, in the past decade, the four counties of southern Vermont got 20 percent of the land protection. Those four counties make up 35 percent of the land area of the state. They are Bennington, Rutland, Windham, and Windsor. In the past ten years, VLT has permanently protected about 134,000 acres.

Just three of VLT's 14 board members live in southern Vermont.

Richardson, referring to the south-north disparity, told the Valley Post, "It's not an analysis I'd done before. I will work to find out why that problem exists and how to fix it. We are working to recruit more board members from southern Vermont. We have two offices in southern Vermont."

The group's main office is in Montpelier.

State Senator Dick McCormack lives in Windsor county. He told the Valley Post he contacted VLT and, “I find the land trust’s explanation convincing. There are more farms to conserve in the north. There is more national forest acreage in the south. A big part of the north’s portion is two big tracts that are exceptional and are of benefit to the whole state. That said, the southern counties’ delegations will be watchful to be sure our part of the state gets its share.”

Robin Chesnut-Tangerman is a member of the Vermont House of Representatives. He lives in Rutland County. He told the Valley Post, “Rutland county has the second most farmland of any county in Vermont. Addison has the most. The lion's share of VLT's activity is in the north. Almost all the money the state gives VLT – $6.3 million last fiscal year – is for farmland protection, not woodlands. But Windham and Windsor counties have a lot of farmland along the Connecticut river that should be protected.”

This year's state budget is $6 billion.

Chesnut-Tangerman said he lived in Scotland and traveled in Germany. Farmland and forestland protection has been so effective in those places that, even in rural areas, people don't need to own a car. People in rural areas live in downtowns where one can walk or ride a bike to work, school, shopping, forest hiking trails and places to walk or bike surrounded by farmland. “They travel by train and by bus,” Chesnut-Tangerman said.

Multi-family housing of the kind found in downtown Northampton and Brattleboro is inherently more energy efficient than single-family houses.

Apartments can be fancy; in New York City, millionaires live in apartments.

Abigail Mnookin lives in Brattleboro and works for 350 Vermont, a group that fights climate change. She told the Valley Post, “I love what the Vermont Land Trust does. It would be great to see their work equalized between southern and northern Vermont. I'm speaking for myself, not necessarily for 350 Vermont.”

State Senator Cheryl Hooker represents Rutland county. She told the Valley Post, “There are a lot of reasons why Vermont Land Trust has been more active in northern Vermont. One is that their work depends on the willingness of landowners to protect their land. But we need equitable shares of this funding throughout the state.”

Mary Ellen Copeland runs an all-volunteer land protection group in the southern Vermont town of Dummerston. “After years of work we are close to protecting 933 acres,” she said. “VLT has been a huge help. But I would love to see them spend more money down here. We shouldn't get short-changed.”

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With the exception of tiny Grand Isle, all of Vermont's counties are roughly the same size geographically. Here is the breakdown by county of land protected by the Vermont Land Trust in the past decade:

Addison: 13,300 acres

Bennington: 6,600 acres

Caledonia: 5,400 acres

Chittenden: 8,600 acres

Essex: 1,300 acres

Franklin: 17,000 acres

Grand Isle: 465 acres

Lamoille: 24,200 acres

Orange: 6,350 acres

Orleans: 20,100 acres

Rutland: 8,400 acres

Washington: 9,550 acres

Windham: 8,400 acres

Windsor: 3,970 acres

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A slightly shorter version of this article originally appeared in the Mountain Times newspaper.

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