A federal wilderness bill that would expand the Green Mountain National Forest’s "wilderness" designation to an additional 42,000 acres hangs by a thread this weekend. The U.S. Senate has passed it, but the House has adjourned before taking action. The bill could still pass in the lame-duck session that will follow the November 7 election, but nothing is certain in Washington.
What’s certain in Vermont is that self-funded Republican U.S. Senate longshot Richard Tarrant strongly opposes the New England Wilderness Act despite the fact it has the support of Vermont’s entire congressional delegation and governor, including Tarrant’s opponent the Senate frontrunner Bernie Sanders. Richie Rich held a rare presser Saturday morning in front of B.J.'s Gun Shop on Industrial Avenue in Williston. Nice folks inside to chat with. Said Tarrant outside:
"Right now as you know we have in front of us an issue about the wilderness controversy. And I want to state very clearly that I stand behind the sportsmen. I think we have enough wilderness. I’m for conservation. I think we have to conserve our forests. We have to manage our forests, but the bottom line is we cannot take our forests away from traditional Vermonters who not only use them to make a living, but use them to recreate.”
Tarrant, who said he doesn’t hunt, told reporters that if elected to the Senate, he would oppose any expansion of the wilderness designation in Vermont which prohibits ATVs, snowmobiles and logging.
Observing Tarrant’s press conference was Sanders for Senate campaign spokesman Paul Hortenstine. Afterwards, he described Tarrant’s view as “extremist,” and handed out literature stating Tarrant wasn't telling the truth about the bill restricting Vermonters' right to hunt and fish. Not so:
"The wilderness bill will not restrict hunting and fishing and will preseve hunting and fishing opportunities for generations to come."
"We’ve seen again today," said Hortenstine, "that he would rather hide behind his negative discredited attack ads. And when he finally does take a position on an issue, it’s an extreme position that’s not only out of step with the Vermont delegation but it’s also out-of-step with the Republican governor and with Vermonters."
Tarrant had a dozen "sportsmen" stand behind him, including former anti-civil union candidate for governor Brian Pearl. Pearl finished 10th in 2002 with 569 votes statewide.
Today we're getting a few responses regarding the Wilderness Bill not passing the House....yet. First from Vermont's U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders' office:
Despite a full court press by the entire Vermont delegation, the clock ran out on their effort to secure passage of the Vermont Wilderness bill late last night when the U.S. House adjourned without taking it up again. Congress will return for a lame duck session following the November election and Congressman Bernie Sanders intends to continue his bipartisan effort with the all-Republican New Hampshire House delegation to get the Vermont and New Hampshire initiatives approved by Congress and signed into law.
Sanders said, "I am pleased that we got as far as we did in this process. It puts us in a good position for the lame duck session in November. Needless to say, I am very disappointed that essentially the clock ran out on our efforts in the last few days to get this done now. But we are not going to stop pushing for the Vermont Wilderness bill until we get it passed."
Then from Gov. Jim Douglas, who fellow Republican Tarrant declined to criticize, saying he had not spoken to Douglas as yet about the issue. Said the Guv:
"I’m pleased Senators Jeffords and Leahy succeeded in moving our wilderness compromise through the Senate yesterday and I look forward to seeing this measure pass the House when Congress returns later this Fall. I’ve reiterated my commitment to assist the delegation with this important work.
"All the issues surrounding additional wilderness designations within our Green Mountain National Forest evoke strong feelings from many Vermonters with multiple points of view. By recognizing the value of compromise, we were able to reach an agreement.
"This measure will expand wilderness areas within the Green Mountain National Forest and I appreciate the work our delegation is doing to move this bill through the Congress before it adjourns for the year."
And next from Peter Welch, the Democrat running for Bernie's seat in the U.S. House:
"It is disappointing for Vermonters that wilderness protection for our state has stalled in the U.S. House, despite an agreement between the Governor and Vermont's congressional delegation. The leadership in the Senate did its job by unanimously passing the compromise language; unfortunately the Republican leadership in the House was unwilling to do theirs.
"I, like most Vermonters, support a balance of land use for our National Forests- land that is truly wild for hunting, hiking, and skiing; active forest management; and recreation use such a snowmobiling. This is a clear difference between me and my opponent Martha Rainville, who has stated clearly her opposition to 'any more' wilderness protection.
"The New England Wilderness bill is yet another example of why we must put an end to Republican leadership in the House and begin a new direction."
Nothing from the Rainville Campaign....yet.
And finally, this statement just in from Scudder Parker, Democrat for governor:
“Sadly, last night despite the best efforts of Senators Jeffords and Leahy and Representative Sanders, the New England Wilderness Bill failed to pass, leaving the protection of additional wilderness in Vermont in limbo. Jim Douglas is to blame and must stand up and take responsibility for his actions.
“Douglas's role in derailing the bill is becoming clearer and clearer, and voters are paying attention. Had he not written the letter to Representative Pombo, we would have a wilderness bill today.
“It is incomprehensible to me that a governor of Vermont, a state that came together over five years to support a workable compromise on wilderness, would have so utterly failed his constituents by playing last-minute political games. He wrote the letter. He derailed the process. He should take responsibility. He’s had his chance, and in November, the voters will have their say.”
The Guv's race is getting a little interesting, eh?