When it comes to setting rules for farming in wetland areas, state agencies have to cooperate better, according to a legislative report released Monday.
The Legislative Study Committee on Wetlands was formed last year by Act 64 and met over the summer, taking testimony from those involved with the regulation of Vermont’s wetlands, including staff from the Agency of Natural Resources, and the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
“The Study Committee strongly believes that wetlands should be protected and activities in wetlands should be regulated,” reads the report. “However, existing allowed uses in wetlands, including farming, should continue to be allowed, subject to regulation by appropriate State agencies, and there could be greater clarity as to how to conduct such activities.”
The committee was formed in order to make recommendations to the Legislature that would clarify the roles of ANR and AAFM in regulating farming operations on wetlands.
“The Study Committee voted to recommend that no legislative action be taken at this time to amend the wetlands statutes,” reads the report. Instead it recommends that AAFM continue to work on rules under Vermont’s “Required Agricultural Practices,” and that the ANR’s “Wetlands Stakeholder Group” involve more farmers.
Sen. Robert Starr, D-Essex-Orleans, chairman of the Legislative Study Committee on Wetlands, said Monday that the issue started a few years ago when ANR began proposing rules for farming in certain wetlands, something that normally fell under the AAFM purview.
“The ANR went and developed rules and regulations to farming in wetlands,” said Starr, adding that ANR never consulted the AAFM over this, leading to confusion. Part of the problem was the two agencies had different definitions for terms such as “farming,” and didn’t appear to working closely enough together to resolve their differences.
Starr said the AAFM is currently working on updates to the Required Agricultural Practices and once they’re complete, more discussions will take place. He said it became clear over the course of the summer and fall that those falling under these regulations would prefer the rules were set by the AAFM.
What also became clear, he said, was that the ANR’s Wetlands Stakeholder Group needed more farmers involved. He said previously only one beef farmer from Salisbury was participating.
Starr said not much has changed from the agricultural community’s perspective, besides the lowering of certain permit fees.
Scott Waterman, policy and communications director at AAFM, said in an interview Monday that his agency has been moving along with its work on the RAP.
“Both the agricultural wetland definition and any process impacts for folks will be determined as part of the current rule-making collaboration and future public meeting process,” said Waterman. Folks will be able to submit comments and learn more about the impacts through the public meeting process once the proposed rules have been filed. There is no schedule for these meetings at this time.”
Laura Lapierre, wetlands program manager at ANR, said many of the issues stemmed from a lack of clarity in established rules. She said those involved in agricultural practices should now have more opportunities to weigh on the rule-making processes.