One of my favorite parts about living in Vermont is our ability to defy description, particularly in a time where it has become acceptable in our country to separate and label entire groups of people, placing them in boxes based on beliefs, actions or appearance.
I am proud to live in a brave little state full of hyphens. What do I mean by this? Simply that we don’t summarize our fellow citizens using one-word labels. To capture the complex character of my friends and neighbors, I often find myself assembling beautiful run-on sentences that would make my high school English teacher cringe.
I introduce my neighbor as the hunter-farmer-outdoorsy-blacksmith-birder. When describing my friend, I call him an artsy-mechanic-logger-dad-artisan-quarry worker. And I’m not the only one who introduces people like this. In Vermont, we understand that people are not monolithic, and knowing this, we refuse to allow ourselves to be described as such. We are Jacks and Jills of many trades.
Next week, many Vermonters will be gearing up for the start of Vermont’s popular 16-day rifle deer season. It is a season as old as our state. Hunting and fishing have been a part of Vermont’s culture since its founding. It’s also a great time to witness our ability to go beyond predetermined categories. We are not simply hunters, bikers or hikers. So many of us are biking-hiking-hunting-foraging people who enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities. Better yet, we respect the variety of reasons that brings each one of us into the woods, regardless of whether we participate in that activity or not.
So, when it comes to our long list of hyphenated adjectives and descriptors, I would add a word: conservationist. Collectively, we know our local forests like the back of our hand. We walk in them during every season, spend countless hours on trails, traverse ancient stone borders and learn the intricacies of the plant life. No matter the recreational activity we participate in, we have a deep, shared knowledge and familiarity with Vermont’s woods. Conservation is not, and should never become, an exclusive club for an elite group of people. Just as we all enjoy Vermont’s outdoors, we each have a role in helping to care for Vermont’s woods, wildlife and waters. For conservation to be effective, it requires people with all kinds of interests, hobbies and backgrounds, to do right by the land. Every one of us has an important role to play in protecting Vermont’s woods, water and wildlife — in conservation — and it looks different for everyone:
— An Orange County resident buys her first hunting license and this money goes directly into funding state conservation programs.
— A local birder advocates for conservation on his blog, where he writes about the incredible array of species he saw on his trip to the Missisquoi Wildlife Refuge.
— A mountain biking enthusiast in the Northeast Kingdom attends a local conservation commission meeting to brainstorm ways to expand a trail network for the biking community that is mindful of important wildlife habitat areas in her town.
In Vermont, I see examples of people-powered conservation every day. There are countless stories of neighbors reaching across aisles, ideologies and geographic divides to protect and steward our lands and waters. One example is the work being done by Cold Hollow to Canada (CHC). More than two-thirds of Vermont’s forests is privately owned, meaning that it is essential to engage individual forestland owners in the collective work to maintain healthy forests across Vermont.
CHC works with groups of landowners from a town with contiguous, or nearly contiguous, forested properties, focusing their management activities on a landscape scale. The neighbor-to-neighbor collaboration results in a cumulative impact that is more significant compared to the effect one property owner can have on their own. Landowners share experiences and receive support from CHC for practices that run the gamut from wildlife habitat development to water quality protection to invasive species control and even climate change resiliency. As for me, I am a hiker-engineer-occasional angler-mom-paddler-conservationist. A lot of hats for certain, but no more (and quite possibly a few less) than most other Vermonters. Being able to respect our differences while working alongside one another to maintain the health of our forest woodlands and waterways, while preserving public access, is one of our most important responsibilities. And one that is easiest to accomplish when we don’t let labels stand in the way of shared purpose and good work.
Julia Moore is the Secretary for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.