Vermont Traditions Coalition


Representing Vermont's Original Conservationists and Environmentalists



 From: Steve McLeod, Frank Stanley & Contributing VTC Delegates

802-434-3346/ or 238-0364/

 OVERVIEW:  Vermont Traditions Coalition (VTC) and our member organizations from the sporting, snowmobile, forest product, farm, outdoor guide, and lake association sectors as well as our close partner organizations and pro-rural traditions public officials scored some spectacular successes during the 2016 Legislative Session.  While we were successful in getting positive outcomes on most issues, there were some disappointments.   With your help, we’ll do whatever follow up is needed on all issues. 

Many issues live on for years or even become permanent controversies.  That is why we cannot just quit after fifteen Legislative Sessions and congratulate ourselves on what we’ve achieved so far.  For an organization to avoid being mowed over by opposing forces, a permanent year round public advocacy presence including a strong Legislative presence is imperative!!  VTC has made a huge difference in behalf of traditional rural land uses since we were formed in 2001. 

We must continue to grow and improve as a statewide network of committed organizations, individuals, and businesses.  On many issues, Frank Stanley and I have to call on all our part of our statewide network to play some kind of key role in creating a successful outcome!  This year, many of you contributed in big and small ways, and believe us, every single contribution counts!  Whether it was doing what we asked in alerts to the statewide VTC Email List, coming to the State House, testifying on bills, making phone calls, or writing letters, every person who gave up small amounts or large amounts of time often made the key difference on big-time issues. 

And then there are the organizations, businesses, and individuals who financially donate!  VTC is privately funded and, without people donating to the cause, VTC ceases to exist!  Our adversaries are frequently wealthy, heavily staffed organizations that far outspend us.  However, the reasonableness of our positions, the fact we have two full-time paid year round professional advocates, and a statewide network of volunteers has allowed us to succeed more often than not.  This being said, we must continue to grow and improve, because our opponents are not standing still!  Your donations and volunteer work are essential to VTC’s continuing success.  Here are some of the key issues VTC addressed during the 2016 Legislature:

SNOWMOBILE SUCCESSES2016 marks the year that the State of Vermont finally recognized that the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST) deserved financial help from state funds to build the multi-million dollar Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (LVRT)!  When complete, this 93 mile trail on an old railroad bed from St. Johnsbury to Northern Franklin County will be used by all trail groups (except ATVers are restricted to short trail connectors) and walkers, not just snowmobilers. 

So far, the federal government has contributed $6.5 million to the construction of the trail, but VAST has had to finance virtually all the rest of the expense.  Veteran Lamoille County Republican Senator Rich Westman teamed up with Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST) Executive Director Cindy Locke and the Shumlin Administration’s Agency of Transportation to spearhead passage of legislation appropriating $1.4 million in state matching funds to help finance continuing construction of this trail.  The Vermont Transportation Agency will match every dollar VAST raises up to $400,000 in the remainder of 2016.  In 2017, the Agency will match up to $1,000,000 raised by VAST. 

The Senate Transportation Committee Chaired by Colchester-Champlain Islands Democratic Senator Dick Mazza and the House Transportation Committee Chaired by Colchester Republican Pat Brennan got behind the Westman-VAST collaboration, and the legislation passed.  The four-five weeks it took for this bill to pass gave Frank and I the opportunity to talk with a lot of key people about the importance of the whole state getting behind this monumental project. 

VAST also won legislative approval for legislation that declares VAST is not liable for injuries and damages that are caused by snowmobilers who stray from the VAST trail system.  This legislation took two years to finally break through and pass.  See, the forest fragmentation section below for the key role that VTC played in getting an important change to “forest fragmentation” legislation that saved trails, forestry operations, and farm/ maple operations from being banned by new legislation that could sharply limit fragmentation of forested areas. 

House Bill 510 was introduced by Rutland County Republican Representative Peter Fagan to allow towns to close town roads to through traffic.  Rep. Fagan introduced the bill because long haul truckers were using a quiet neighborhood road as a short cut.  Frank and I worked with Rep. Fagan, who is a strong supporter of traditional rural land uses, to amend the language so that it did not affect the use of roads used by snowmobiles, ATVs, and snowmobile groomers.  Then the bill died in the Senate anyway. 

FOREST FRAGMENTATION LEGISLATIONThis bill, backed by a powerful consortium of environmental groups, was introduced to try and preserve forested areas from fragmentation by real estate development.  The bill required Regional Plans and Town Plans to address ways to minimize “forest fragmentation” and ways to create wildlife habitat corridors.  The bill also includes a study of whether Act 250 and local zoning should also address these issues.  The bill was a fairly complex bill that went through a rapid fire nine drafts in around three weeks!  It seemed like there was almost a draft per day.  The bill wound up targeting much more than real estate.  The first half-dozen drafts defined forestry operations, trails, and farm/ maple operations in forest blocks as “forest fragmentation” that must be minimized.  If passed in this form, the bill would have been a disaster for trails, forestry, and farm-maple activity in some cases.

Finally, in the later drafts, VTC, VAST, the Vermont ATV Sportsman’s Association, and the Vermont Forest Products Association were able to exempt these activities from being considered “forest fragmentation”.  The bill wound up passing minus the disastrous language.  Fish & Wildlife Committee Vice-Chairman Jim McCullough (D-Williston) played a key role in straightening out the trails language, and deserves special credit for his successful effort. 

The bill creates a Study Committee regarding the town zoning and Act 250 issue.  VTC made sure that Vermont Forest Products Association got a seat on the Study Committee.  The potential ban on real estate development, perhaps even deer camps and individual houses, in forest blocks will continue to be controversial due to the impact on private property rights.

GUN CONTROLDespite the lobbying efforts of the City of Burlington and the city’s Mayor Miro Weinberger, Burlington’s three proposed gun control measures failed to gain Legislative approval for the second year in a row.  Also, a strong attempt early in the Legislative Session to impose burdensome universal background checks on all gun sales, even sales between family members, failed. 

The Vermont 2A Coalition, in which VTC plays a strong coordinating role, took the lead in opposing increased gun control again this year.  It is clear to VTC and anyone who follows the raging gun control debate that gun control advocates in Vermont will not be satisfied until they make it virtually impossible to buy and own guns for hunting or self-protection.  We expect to be fighting this issue for years to come!  Vermont’s current gun laws are working well enough so that we are one of the safest states in the nation whereas Chicago, with some of the toughest gun laws in the country, has one of the highest crime rates in the country. 

The Vermont Gun Control movement is staffed and funded, in large part, by wealthy out-of-state interests.  There were two major events at the Vermont State House during the 2016 Legislature where sportsmen and gun rights supporters filled the State House Cafeteria to the brim for rallies in support of leaving Vermont gun laws as they are.  Many VTCers answered the call and attended these two rallies against more gun control.  Those gatherings sent a big message to the Governor, legislators, and other public officials that sportsmen are organized, paying attention, and a force to be reckoned with in the 2016 elections.  The two events were the annual Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs Legislative Mixer and the annual Legislators’ Sportsmen’s Caucus.  Frank, with the help of other VTCers, worked closely with Legislators’ Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Pat Brennan and other legislators to organize the Sportsmen’s Caucus event. 

Frank helped organize the inaugural wild game food spread at the Legislators’ Sportsmen’s Caucus, and that was big hit with the legislators, many of whom had never eaten many of the offerings.  Those VTCers who attended either or both of these events made an important contribution to the cause.  Those of you, who did not attend, please try and attend next year!

 H.570, the Fish and Wildlife Department’s Bill, was adopted by both chambers and it removed the sunset expiration on last year’s gun suppressor bill.  H.570 also included important shooting range protection provisions which allow ranges to make safety and environmental improvements without going through the Act 250 process. There were several other anti-gun bills which failed to gain traction.  This legislation didn’t even receive a committee hearing and included bills to ban lead ammunition for hunting, restrict magazine capacity to 10 rounds, and a bill requiring insurance policy holders to disclose if they own firearms.


Mayor John Hollar, Representative Warren Kitzmiller and other top officials from the City of Montpelier again descended upon the Legislature to try and get legislators on the House Government Operations Committee to ban fishing and non-motorized boating on Berlin Pond in neighboring Berlin.  VTC, our member organization,

Friends of Berlin Pond led by Nate Smead, Barre Attorney Oreste Valsangiacomo, Rick and Leslie Sanborn of Barre, and the Shumlin administration’s Agency of Natural Resources have played lead roles in repelling Montpelier’s attempts to ban fishing and non-motorized boating on the pond.  VTCs Mike Covey and Montpelier residents, Bob Hynes and Ed Larson, also have been big contributors. 

This time Vermont’s anglers and non-motorized boaters survived by the skin of our teeth.  Five Republicans and one Democrat on the House Government Operations Committee teamed up to defeat Montpelier’s ban attempt by a 6-4-1 margin.  VTCers who left phone messages with the Committee in response to a VTC Alert played a key role in this narrow victory!  You need to follow through on these important calls to action when asked!  This issue is likely to be back in one form or another next year. 


 VTC and our long-time member organization, the Lake Champlain Walleye Association, backed up the Shumlin administration’s Department of Fish & Wildlife’s successful attempt to fund over $2 million for the re-construction of the Roxbury Fish Hatchery.  This important hatchery was completely destroyed by Hurricane Irene in 2011.  The Roxbury Hatchery is one of only five fish hatcheries in the state, and plays an important role in making Vermont fisheries attractive to anglers. 

The Legislature did not disturb the $25,000 appropriated to the Lake Champlain Walleye Association for restoration of robust walleye populations in the Lake Champlain Basin and elsewhere.  However, the Senate Institutions Committee called Walleye Association leaders to the State House to testify on how the state appropriations are being expended. 

VTC and the Walleye Association supported the joint proposal of the Vermont & New Hampshire Fish & Wildlife Departments to introduce walleye to the Moore Dam portion of the Connecticut River near St. Johnsbury.   However, the proposal was withdrawn after strong objections from trout fishermen who say walleye and trout do not co-exist well.  The trout anglers’ theory is debatable, but it did carry the day in this case.  Lt. Governor Phil Scott, who has been a key leader on the walleye restoration effort and a major fishing accesses renovations program, kept a close eye on the hatchery and walleye proceedings.


The Department of Fish & Wildlife led by Commissioner Louis Porter got legislation passed that lifted the five-year ban on felt-soled waders.  VTC supported an end to the ban.  Use of felt-soled waders was banned by the Legislature in 2011 out of concern about spreading didymo, an invasive species, in rivers and streams.  New scientific information has verified that felt waders are not a significant factor in the spread of didymo, though anglers and all recreationists are still cautioned to check all their gear and apparel when changing waterbodies to stop the spread of many invasive species.  Didymo is more prevalent than once thought and may be present in most of our rivers and streams and studies have shown that blooms only occur in waterways when phosphorus levels are too low. 

SPORTSMEN EXEMPTED FROM RAILROAD CROSSING BAN:  After years of defeats, the railroad and the Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) finally passed a ban on crossing railroad tracks at other than authorized crossings except that the ban does not apply to sportsmen in the act of hunting, fishing, or trapping.  Frank took the lead for VTC in securing the exemption.  Frank also checked with other VTC sectors, and found that snowmobilers and ATVers already need permission to cross. 

Timber harvesters need permission to get to the occasional timber harvesting job that requires an unauthorized railroad crossing, but their feedback was the railroads are pretty good to work with in this regard.  Farms generally have authorized crossings or railroad permission to get to their fields. 

VTC had led the successful effort to defeat railroad trespass legislation going all the way back to 2003, but this year, railroad lobbyists finally exempted sportsmen, who were the main victims of prior railroad crossing bans. So it’s now illegal and you can be ticketed for going down or across a railroad track in Vermont, unless you are hunting, fishing or trapping. The railroad and AOT said they needed this law to protect people from getting hurt, but it was obvious that all this was about was limiting the liability of the railroad companies when someone does get hurt or killed.

EXPANSION OF VERMONT’S POTENTIAL THREATENED & ENDANGERED SPECIES RESTRICTIONS:   VTC and many of our member organizations opposed the Shumlin Administration’s Agency of Natural Resources proposal, House Bill 553, the Threatened & Endangered Species Bill, throughout the Legislative Session.  VTC presented a number of witnesses who testified in opposition to various aspects of the bill, but, in the end, the bill did get passed.  During the two years that this bill was under consideration, Frank and several VTC volunteers such as Robbo Holleran, Steve Hardy, Bill Sayre, Bruce Shields, and Mike Covey successfully worked to get various amendments included in the bill that helped moderate its impact considerably. 

Nevertheless, the bill does expand threatened and endangered plant and animal protections to include not only the endangered species itself, but also its “critical habitat.”  If “critical habitat” is designated by the Agency after a rigorous designation process, various activities could be restricted in the “critical habitat” zone.  VTCers testified that in the case of the lynx, which roams a wide area, the “critical habitat” could be a massive expanse of woodlands.  The Agency believes there are safeguards in the bill that prevent such broad designations.  VTC will monitor closely how this legislation is applied going forward, and will seek changes in the law if any drastic restrictive designations are attempted by the Agency.

FOREST PRODUCTS INDUSTRY TARGETEDThe Vermont Forest Products Association, a VTC member organization since VTC was founded in 2001, and VTC teamed up to fight a series of proposals from the Shumlin administration that could have upended Vermont’s forest products industry.  The success of Vermont’s forest products industry for generations is the primary factor creating the heavily wooded Vermont landscape that so many Vermonters enjoy for hunting, fishing, trapping, snowmobiling, ATVing, and other forms of recreation. 

Once timber harvesting becomes unprofitable, forest product companies have no choice but to sell to real estate developers.  There were also some positive proposals from the Shumlin administration where VTC-VFPA were able to collaborate on some amendments to create some good legislation.  VFPA and VTC’s top highlight was an uphill battle the entire Legislative Session that resulted in the defeat of Mandatory Trip Tickets and Mandatory Timber Harvest Notification in the final days of the session.  Numerous legislators joined VFPA in helping to defeat these initiatives. 

Mandatory Timber Harvest Notification took a twisting, turning route through six Legislative Committees before our legislative allies and VFPA were able to defeat it.  The final blow to Mandatory Timber Harvest Notification came from the Senate Appropriations Committee when they estimated that the program would cost approximately $250,000 per year.  The $250,000 cost increase in a year of heavy tax increases spelled doom for the bill. 

The Shumlin administration’s Mandatory Trip Tickets proposal also met its demise in the House of Representatives.  Mandatory Timber Harvest Notification would have required the landowner to notify the state every time he conducted all but the very smallest of timber harvests on his land.  VFPA considered this undue infringement on timber harvest practices and impractical due to such things as timber harvest locations suddenly changing due to weather conditions, etc.  Plus, VFPA-VTC have learned from our years of experience that notification requirements tend to evolve into permits with all sorts of red tape and conditions attached and could lead to a stumpage tax. 

 Mandatory Trip Tickets would have mandated the type of timber tracking system that landowners, log truckers, mills, and retail destinations use.  Some forest products businesses use the trip ticket system, but others use different systems.  Busy lumber mills handle and process thousands of tons of logs a year.  Mandating a certain type of book keeping system would cost tens of thousands to switch over some operations.  The Mandatory Trip Ticket proposal was shown to create many practical problems during testimony such as being unenforceable out of state where a significant percentage of Vermont logs are trucked. 

Besides the Senate Appropriations Committee, Republican Representative Mark Higley of Lowell, the House Natural Resources Committee, and the House Agriculture Committee all played key roles in the positive outcome on these issues.  Also in the Senate, Democratic Senators Bobby Starr and John Rodgers of Essex-Orleans Counties and Republican Senator Helen Riehle of Chittenden County opposed mandatory harvest notification in Committee, while Addison County Seantor Chris Bray, Bennington County Senator Brian Campion, and Orange County Senator Mark McDonald supported mandatory notification. 

Another challenge was House Bill 355, mandatory licensing of foresters, that was also proposed by the Shumlin administration.  This was a well-intentioned bill that caused all sorts of practical problems for forest landowners, foresters, loggers, and mills such as preventing loggers from engaging in logging activities that are essential to efficiently harvesting a forest.  VTC-VFPA came one vote away from killing the bill altogether in the Senate Government Operations Committee.  Republican Senators Joe Benning of Caledonia County and Brian Collamore of Rutland County opposed licensure, but they were out voted by Democrats Jeanette White of Windham County, Anthony Pollina of Washington County, and Bray of Addison County.  However, VTC-VFPA came back with six proposed amendments that fixed many of the problems with the bill.  Senator White, Shumlin Administration Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation Commissioner Michael Snyder, and Office of Professional Regulation Director Colin Benjamin all worked with VFPA-VTC, after some intense negotiations, to pass the six amendments.  

VFPA was also in the middle of the battles over the Forest Fragmentation Legislation and the Threatened & Endangered Species Legislation.  On the positive side, VFPA-VTC worked with the Shumlin administration to pass timber theft legislation that addresses unscrupulous timber thieves who illegally cut landowners’ carefully cultivated forest lands and sneak away without paying the landowner. 

Finally, VFPA-VTC worked with the Shumlin administration to strengthen the law that bans towns from regulating “forestry operations.”  This ban allows timber harvesters to work under one set of state guidelines rather than countless sets of local regulations, some of which undoubtedly would be used to prevent profitable timber harvesting in violation of fundamental property rights and the ability of Vermont to maintain a profitable working landscape.  VFPA will have a representative on a working group established by the 2016 Legislature to make recommendations regarding incentives for the intergenerational transfer of forest land.  The outcome of this group’s work has the potential to be good…..or bad…..hence the importance of VFPA having a seat at the table.


During the 2015 Legislative Session, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) attempted to pass complicated, one size fits all changes to Vermont’s animal sheltering laws.  The House Agriculture Committee and VTC stopped the advancement of this legislation that would have made many pet and animal owner’s criminals if they didn’t abide by stringent laws that didn’t take into account the needs of all breeds of dogs. 

As a result, VTC and other stakeholders formed an informal Summer Working Group led by Rep. John Bartholomew (D-Hartland) to work on and update Vermont’s animal sheltering statutes in a responsible manner that fit the needs of all breeds of animals.  The Bill produced by this Working Group was introduced as H.512 and had the support from all the stakeholders involved in the Working Group including HSUS.  H-512 passed the House without incident, and was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Committee Chairman, Bennington County Senator Dick Sears, at the request of HSUS and Senator Tim Ashe, tacked on the Animal Cruelty Investigative Advisory Task Force language that was passed out of Committee with little testimony.  H-512, with the new Senate language, passed the Senate Floor and was sent back to the House Agriculture Committee to seek the House’s agreement with the Task Force change. 

The House Agriculture Committee had issues with the change, especially since all the stakeholders agreed H.512 was a good bill as passed by the House. HSUS underhandedly took it upon themselves to add more language to H.512 in the Senate without notifying any House members or other stakeholders in advance.  With time running short, the House Agriculture Committee wanted to hear more testimony on this proposed Task Force, and asked that HSUS ask the Senate to remove the Task Force language. 

All stakeholders from the Working Group agreed to commit to getting the stakeholders together again to discuss the creation of such a Task Force.  On the record, HSUS agreed to remove the language and never followed through.  In response, during the closing days of the legislature, Senators Sears and Ashe slipped the language into H.130 and again into S.169 which we caught and diffused. Then, with a couple days left, the Senators slipped the language into H.533, which is known as the Crime Victims’ Notification Bill.  H.512 was scrapped and H.533 was sent to the House Judiciary Committee where it was set for a Committee of Conference. 

House Judiciary was going to pull the Task Force language because it wasn't really germane to the Bill and the House hadn't taken any testimony.  Senator Sears found out and he used the process, the timing, and a threat to delay the end of the session by holding up a must-pass money bill to push the language through. In the process, he killed two important Agriculture Committee bills, and threatened the underlying H.533 bill regarding crime victim notification.

During the last afternoon of the session, we alerted dozens of House Members and VTC member organizations and organizations we work with about this movement to skirt the legislative process for the benefit of the special interest of the anti-hunting and anti-animal agriculture group, HSUS.  Hundreds of calls poured in during the final hours of the Legislative Session, and H.533, which would have likely passed the House Floor unanimously earlier that day, limped through the finish line by a vote of 74-67.

Most of the state agencies listed as members of the Task Force were never notified about the Task Force.  There is no funding for the responsibilities of the Task Force and the programs the Task Force is supposed to address. Items like the proposed tax on pet food will only hurt the same animals we are looking to protect from abuse and neglect.  The Vt. Federation of Dog Clubs, a long-time VTC member organization, will be on the Task Force and work with other appointees to make sure any recommendations that come from the Task Force’s bi-monthly deliberations work for Vermonters.

AGRICULTURAL ISSUES Vermont Farm Bureau has also been a VTC member organization since VTC was founded.  The Farm Bureau also benefitted from VTC’s above-discussed work on the forest fragmentation issue and the threatened & endangered species issue.  One of the VTC-VFPA’s amendments to the forest licensing bill was a highly important

Amendment affected a significant percentage of farmers.  Many farmers own sizable wood lots in addition to their fields and pastures.  The original version of the forester licensing bill included the highly restrictive and expensive requirement that landowners hire a forester for timber harvesting anything more than 40 acres. 

The VTC-VFPA amendment increased the amount of land the landowner could harvest himself to 400 acres thereby encompassing the woodland holdings of most farmers, many of who feel they can manage their timber harvests without help from a forester.  On another issue, Farm Bureau Lobbyist Lyn Desmairas and VFPA’s Bill Sayre teamed up to successfully testify against a bill that would require bright markings on every logging road or farm road barrier erected on private property.  While most landowners voluntarily brightly mark barriers, the proposal raised liability concerns as well as other practical issues.  The bill was defeated in the House Transportation Committee.

AND NOW THE 2016 LEGISLATIVE OFF SEASON:  It’s an election year this year.  Make sure you vote!!  The party primaries will be held on Tuesday, August 9.  The primary battle for the Republican nomination for Governor is between Lt. Governor Phil Scott and Bruce Lisman. 

The Democratic Primary for Governor is between three candidates: former Representative Sue Minter, former Senator Matt Dunne, and former Senator Peter Galbraith.  The Republican and Democratic winners face off for the right to be Vermont’s next Governor in the General Election on November 8.  Make sure you know where these candidates stand on gun control and other important issues.  You will also be voting on other state races in November as well as races for your County Senators and your local representatives.  VTC will resume meetings in August. 

We expect many issues from the 2016 Legislature to return plus we will be busy in the Legislative off season on a variety of issues such as state lands Management Plans that determine what uses of these lands are permitted and which are not and many other similar issues. 

The much awaited Final Long Range Management Plan for the Conte Refuge in the Northeast Kingdom may come out later this year.  The Draft Plan involves far reaching federal land purchases of over 100,000 acres on both sides of the Connecticut River in Vermont and New Hampshire.  These purchases could have far reaching effects on local tax bases, the forest products industry, ATVing, snowmobiling, road access to these lands, and other recreational issues.

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Vermont Traditions Coalition, Steve McLeod, Executive Director, 127 Sports Club Dr. #123, Bolton, VT 05477

Phone: 802-434-3346