Douglas defied public will
I am writing to express my disappointment in the current status of Vermont's 2006 wilderness bill. For the past five years, the majority of Vermonters participating in the public debate over the future of the Green Mountain National Forest expressed their support for expanding wilderness designation within the forest.
When the Bush administration's Forest Service plan was released, designating a much smaller area of wilderness than that requested by Vermonters, our elected representatives — Congressman Bernie Sanders, and Senators Jeffords and Leahy — listened to Vermonters and introduced a bill that would permanently protect more of this special land for future generations.
However, at the last minute, Governor Douglas acted against the will of the people and successfully stalled progress of this bill. The bill is now due to be considered by Congress after the November elections, during a lame-duck session, when it is almost impossible to make progress on legislation that falls short of having national significance.
Not only has Governor Douglas interfered with important legislation that could make significant strides towards preserving the integrity and beauty of Vermont's dwindling wild places, but he has thumbed his nose at the majority of Vermonters who supported more wilderness.
Just the other day, The Burlington Free Press took an online poll that asked: "Are you in favor of the recent legislation that will designate 48,000 new acres of land as protected wilderness in the Green Mountain National Forest?" Over 70 percent of Vermonters polled answered yes; only about 20 percent said no. This result matches, almost exactly, a 2002 poll conducted on the same issue, by UVM's Center for Rural Studies.
It seems that Governor Douglas is willing to place the private interests of a small minority ahead of the long-term, public interests of a large majority of Vermont voters. Especially in the run-up to state elections, we, as Vermonters, need to think about whether our representatives are genuinely interested in representing Vermont citizens.
Unfortunately, in the past week, both the 2006 wilderness bill and Governor Douglas' interference in the political and legislative processes have fallen into the background, drowned out, perhaps, by more salacious news from the halls of Congress. We should not, however, let our growing cynicism about D.C. politics cripple our idealism as we strive for a better Vermont.
There is still time to tell our representatives that we support this bill and will insist on its passage, and, just as important, that we will not tolerate representatives who defy the clear will of Vermont's citizens.