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Some skeptical of Conte expansion

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copyright the Chronicle October 18, 2017


by Tena Starr


A federal plan to expand the Sylvio O. Conte, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife refuge that includes thousands of acres in northeastern Vermont, has met with skepticism in some circles. One of the more influential of those skeptics is Governor Phil Scott.

The Conte, as it’s often called, was established in 1997 to conserve native plant, fish and wildlife species, as well as ecosystems, throughout the Connecticut River watershed. Currently, it includes a little over 36,000 acres within parts of the four watershed states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. About 25,000 of the Conte’s acres are in Vermont, primarily in Essex County.

The federal government wants to add about 60,000 Vermont acres to the refuge — not through eminent domain, but by buying the land from property owners, or by acquiring conservation easements.

Nonetheless, it has generated concern about how municipalities and the forestry industry will be affected. While no one wants to say they oppose conservation in theory, in practice it can have unintended consequences.

Last month, Governor Scott wrote Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke expressing concern about the proposed expansion.

“Unlike many western states, where large percentages of land are owned or controlled by the federal government, our land use history and heritage centers on private ownership,” the Governor wrote. “These lands provide our citizens with recreational opportunities, an exceptional quality of life, and jobs.”

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