[Economic Stimulus][Permit Activities][Enforcement][Fish and Wildlife]
[State Forests and Parks][Do We Practice What We Preach?][A Note From the Secretary]
The total Agency of Natural Resources budget for fiscal year 1997 is $46,510,305, of which $8,837,985 comes from general state taxes (Figure 1). The Agency's allotment represents 1.2 percent of the total state General Fund, or about $15 per Vermonter.
The following information provides more detail on how the Agency spends its funds, and what Vermonters receive for their money. We at the Agency consider this information another way, in combination with the environmental indicators given on the previous pages, to provide greater accountability to Vermonters.
In fiscal year 1996, the Agency helped stimulate the economy through environmental stewardship by providing $24 million in federal and state grants and zero-interest loans to Vermont municipalities, small businesses, and organizations. While these funds were used to clean up and enhance Vermont's environment, they also provided jobs for Vermonters. Figure 2 shows how these funds were spent.
The Agency's Department of Environmental Conservation administers 38 permit, license, and registration programs. The Department met its performance goals for timeliness of review in 94 percent of the 7,581 applications received in 1995.
The Department implemented some re-organizational changes in 1996 to increase efficiency without compromising service. The Department published a Permit Handbook (available through the Environmental Assistance Division, 802-241-3888) that provides comprehensive permit information for prospective applicants. The Department convened a focus group of outside interests to study the feasibility of several permit streamlining measures. The Environmental Notice Bulletin, a computerized tracking system begun in late 1995 for projects requiring environmental permits, at http://www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/enb/enb.htm
Through the first 11 months of 1996, the Department of Environmental Conservation had received 1,151 complaints about problems ranging from illegal backyard burning to the draining of wetlands. Of these, 606 (53 percent) were closed as of the beginning of December, and 545 (47 percent) were pending. Of the closed complaints, no violations were found in 207 cases, violations were voluntarily corrected in 229 cases, and enforcement actions were taken in the final 32.
Fish and Wildlife
Vermonters have a new way to show their support for the conservation of wildlife and water resources with passage in 1996 of legislation to create the state's first conservation license plate. The colorful plate designed by Vermont artist Suzanne LeGault features a peregrine falcon, and will be available in January, 1997, at a cost of $20. Revenue from the plate beyond the initial cost will be split between the Nongame Wildlife Fund and a new Watershed Management Account which will provide grants for community-based watershed projects.
Vermonters donated $130,000 on their 1995 tax returns to the Nongame Wildlife Fund, created to protect and preserve Vermont's rare, threatened, and endangered species.
State Forests and Parks
The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation manages 50 state parks and 37 state forests. Alburg Dunes State Park, Lowell Lake State Park in Londonderry, and the Long Trail State Forest were dedicated in 1996. The Grafton State Forest was renamed the Mollie Beattie State Forest to honor the memory of former Commissioner Mollie Beattie, who served as Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until her death in June.
While the state will continue to purchase properties, the Agency has pursued innovative approaches to land conservation. On October 30, 1996, Governor Howard Dean signed an agreement with the Hancock Timber Resource Group to purchase the development rights on 31,000 acres of working forest in the Northeast Kingdom. This ground-breaking, $2.8 million agreement places specific limits on how Hancock can log the land - for instance, no clearcuts of more than 25 acres - while prohibiting new development and providing permanent public access.
In another innovative approach, the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation is negotiating a land exchange with Stowe Mountain Resort. Under the pending agreement, the state would transfer ownership of approximately 25 acres of land, including the present location of the Smugglers' Notch State Park campground, to Stowe Mountain Resort in exchange for approximately 1,092 acres owned by the resort. The resort-owned property includes Elephant's Head, land along Sterling Ridge (including a portion of the Long Trail), and the eastern shore of Sterling Pond. A condition of the legislation which authorized this exchange requires Stowe Mountain Resort, at its own cost, to relocate the Smugglers' Notch State Park campground facilities to another site in the Smugglers' Notch region. The exchange will allow the resort to develop 25 acres at the base of its Spruce Peak facilities; it will also enable the state to relocate Smugglers' Notch State Park into an area much more suitable for overnight camping and permanently protect 1,000 acres of sensitive land as an addition to Mt. Mansfield State Forest.
Do We Practice What We Preach?
This is a fair question to ask the Agency of Natural Resources, and over the years our response has been less than satisfactory. We are pleased to announce that we have just completed a comprehensive environmental assessment of Agency operations. We looked carefully at how we operate our buildings, heat, cool, and clean our offices, purchase supplies, and dispose of wastes. The Agency's Pollution Prevention and Resource Conservation Plan provides a comprehensive list of actions we will take to decrease the environmental consequences of our day-to-day activities. The plan will be presented to the Governor's Clean State Council and will serve as a model for other state agencies to follow. To receive a copy of this plan, please contact Doug Kievit-Kylar at 802-241-3628. Implementation of strategies included in the plan is scheduled to begin in early 1997.
A Note From the Secretary
If you've read this report from beginning to end, you may now be wondering how important indicators are to those of us who work at the Agency of Natural Resources.
We began publishing annual indicators reports to develop a set of indicators that would accurately portray the health of Vermont's environment, which, in turn, impacts human health and the strength of our economy. Our use of indicators now extends into many facets of Agency operations. The Agency is well into a strategic planning process to help us focus on our most important work, an effort that requires a good dose of public comment. We have an Agency strategic plan in place containing broad goals for the next three years - in essence, a vision of where we want to be as we enter the 21st Century.
As each of the Agency's three departments enters the next phase of the planning process - writing annual operational plans with specific objectives - we use indicators again as a means of measuring whether we're fulfilling our mission. The Department of Environmental Conservation's draft operational plan spells out specific objectives, such as reducing the number of fish consumption advisories and curbing the number of failed on-site septic systems. Having precise objectives in place will allow us to shift course or redouble our efforts if we're not making adequate progress in attaining these objectives.
Some might read this report and think the Agency is obsessed with the minutiae of stewardship. We're also concerned with the big picture. As Governor Dean said in October when he announced the state's purchase of a conservation easement to permanently protect 31,000 acres of working forest, we need to look 100 years into the future, when the grandchildren of our children will be entering adulthood.
We all, I am sure, want our children to have the opportunity to live and work in Vermont. For this to happen means our state's population will grow, and people moving into our state will need homes and places to work. This situation presents an immense challenge to those of us who care about protecting our natural resources and keeping open spaces for all to enjoy. I believe there are many ways to achieve these goals. They include encouraging growth to occur in downtowns and well-planned growth centers, and redeveloping contaminated sites that are already connected to a community's infrastructure.
As proposals emerge in the Legislature or through our programs to meet these very real challenges, I encourage you to consider them thoughtfully and to participate in the process of their development. Vermont's future depends on it, and I thank you.
- Barbara Ripley, Secretary