Our Department of Fish and Wildlife in October 2000 hosted the Vermont Wildlife Congress, which focused on Vermonters' connection to the land and the land ethic which many -- if not most -- of us share. A rich mix of Vermonters attended the Wildlife Congress, including hunters, anglers, farmers, land managers, and academics. Through discussions and in an informal survey, it became clear that the majority of us attending the Congress consider land to be more than a unit of economic value. Rather, we see it as an integral part of our lives, a physical and spiritual element that binds cultures and generations. As Aldo Leopold wrote more than 50 years ago, "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."

Many attending the Wildlife Congress said our society, both here in Vermont and across the nation, appears to be losing its connection to the land, that appreciation and respect for the natural world is on the wane as more people view the natural environment as something separate from their everyday lives. If true, this is a sad development in several respects. We know our natural resources have ecological, recreational, and intrinsic values. Just as important, however, is the need to understand that healthy Vermonters need healthy land. Just as wood frogs need a delicate vernal pool to produce its next generation, we humans need healthy land to survive. Mercury, sulfur dioxide, and other contaminants spewed from Midwest power plants, chemical-laden run-off, a variety of other sources of pollution which we as individuals often cannot control, and our own daily activities -- which we can control -- damage the land, and eventually harm ourselves.

We at the Agency of Natural Resources explore these issues many different ways. In Environment 2001 we do so by looking at populations particularly at risk of suffering poor health due to environmental contamination.

How can we Vermonters best respond to the environmental threats around us? As with many environmental issues, simple answers do not exist. We in state government will continue to press in the courts and in Congress to shut down the dirtiest coal-fired power plants that annually send tons of airborne pollutants to our hillsides and backyards. We will continue to serve as stewards of our state's natural resources as we administer permit programs, study wildlife populations, and manage state lands. We will continue to encourage all Vermonters to share in the stewardship of our resources and to rediscover their connection to the land we call Vermont. You, the readers of this report, can respond by examining the environmental impacts of your daily lives and striving to live more in concert with our natural environment.

I hope you enjoy this document and share it with others. As with every Environment report, we invite your comments and suggestions.

Scott Johnstone