Pat McDonald and Ben Kinsley are co-hosts of the show “Vote for Vermont.” Joining them on a recent show was Michael Snyder, Commissioner of Vermont’s Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation (FPR). Michael has been a long-time forester, serving for 14 years as head Chittenden County forestry in addition to 12 years of teaching forestry at UVM. He was appointed by Commissioner by Governor Shumlin and reappointed Commissioner by Governor Phil Scott in January.
Governor Scott signed an Executive Order on June 15, 2017 creating the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC) to “promote prudent stewardship of State recreation assets and marketing the outdoor recreation values and attributes of Vermont to effectively foster economic growth.” The Collaborative, with Michael as its chair, is comprised primarily of private sector members and non-profit leaders. Michael explained that the group provides a needed platform to support our natural, built, and cultural assets and to maintain, expand, and leverage the quality of our recreational offerings. Information on VOREC is located on FPR website along with information on meetings which are open to the public.
Michael explained there are five regional offices including FPR headquarters in Montpelier. It has four sub-departments: Administration, Forestry, State Lands Administration, and State Parks and Outdoor Recreation.
Forestry helps oversee the 350,000 acres of public lands. They are the stewards of the land and collaborate other State entities and private landowners as required. They are also responsible for urban and community forests that tie the public and private forests together.
There are 55 developed state parks which are open to the public for camping and recreating. There are other heavily forested parks like Camels Hump State Park that are not developed. It is estimated that 1M visitors use the services of the Vermont’s parks each year.
The list of outdoor activities is long and fast growing. For instance: backcountry skiing, mountain biking, camping, hiking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, fishing, hunting, etc. The impact that outdoor recreation has on Vermont’s economy is reflected in its over 34,000 jobs and $2.6M in revenue.
Michael talked about the importance of “managing the woods”. He explained that forests, if left alone, would do just fine. But Vermont needs its forests and demands a lot from them. The Department can offer individuals advice on managing their woods based on their interest. For example specific vegetation could be used to attract turkeys for hunters, or song birds for enthusiasts, all while keeping the forest healthy and sustainable.
Last year Bill Sayre was interviewed about the crisis in the wood products industry. Michael confirmed that Vermont is indeed facing a crisis in our low quality wood business. These woods were sold in quantity outside the state, primarily Maine, where they would be processed into pulp and used for making paper. With the use of computers, the need for paper has dwindled dramatically. Maine has closed its mills resulting in a loss in Vermont’s marketplace. Vermont’s high quality wood, which is used for Vermont value added products, continues to be in demand.
In order to resolve the problem the State needs to find other uses for low-grade wood. For example, 30% of Vermont schools burn wood.
Another problem is the high cost of Workers Compensation (WC). Michael has been working on getting an adjustment to the WC rates to assist loggers who have been negatively impacted. The Legislature has recognized the problems facing the industry and allowed for a sales tax exemption for capital equipment. The Legislature also provided addition funds for the Department to acquire portable skidder bridges to allow skidders to cross over rivers and streams to keep the waters clean.
For several years Vermont has focused on the importance of the “working Landscape”. Michael advised that this support continues with the purpose of ensuring economic viability of agricultural and forestry based businesses and putting agriculture and forestry on the same investment platform.
Forestry was added to the House Agriculture (and Forestry) Committee. This puts agriculture and forestry on the same investment platform and gives the Department of Forest, Park and Recreation a “home base” committee although they are called in to testify on related issues in other committees.
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