By Deb Markowitz
Every Earth Day, I take time to reflect on the importance of the work we do at the Agency of Natural Resources and how much I appreciate the passion and commitment of our over 600 employees. At ANR, our work to protect the environment is not just a job—it also provides a life of meaning and purpose. We love Vermont and its great outdoors, so we work together to make sure we protect Vermont’s beauty, health and heritage. We conserve state lands. We ensure our soil, air and water are clean. We make it easier for Vermonters to get outside to hunt, fish and recreate. And we plan carefully for a future that reduces our contributions to climate change and prepares us for its impacts.
Whenever I meet with other environmental leaders from across the country, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be working on environmental issues in a state that defines itself, in part, by our connection to nature. A recent public opinion survey confirms that the Green Mountain State is filled with people who care about the environment. Nine out of ten surveyed Vermonters believe that open space is essential to their quality of life. The vast majority are active outdoors, viewing wildlife (81 percent), birdwatching (55 percent), hiking (61 percent), camping (36 percent), fishing (37 percent), visiting state or national parks (63 percent), biking (37percent), paddling (40 percent), boating (27 percent) and hunting (24 percent).
This love of the outdoors translates into broad support for environmental protection. Eighty-five percent of Vermonters strongly agree (and 13 percent moderately agree) with the statement that “knowing that Vermont’s native fish and wildlife populations are healthy and surviving well is very important to me even if I don’t get to see them.” Eighty-one percent of Vermonters strongly agree (and 15 percent moderately agree) that “threatened and endangered species must be protected.” Vermonters also recognize the significant environmental challenges we face, including global climate change (64 percent), the spread of invasive species (71 percent), forest and habitat fragmentation (46 percent) and the loss of Vermont’s scenic landscape (41 percent).
Vermonters also support reasonable regulation that protects our natural resources. Eighty-three percent agree that it is okay to limit the right to develop property in order to protect fish and wildlife habitat. Similarly, 75 percent disagree with the statement that “economic development is more important than wildlife.”
ANR’s list of successes continues to grow with this strong backbone of public support. Significant new laws now protect our groundwater, lakes and ponds, preserve wildlife as a public trust, make recycling simple and convenient, guard communities against flooding and encourage investments in renewable energy alternatives. We have added thousands of acres of land to our state portfolio, prevented and managed invasive species, grown our wood products industry, and carefully planned how we manage our natural resources so that they are protected for future generations.
Despite our progress, we still face significant challenges. PFOA pollution in Bennington County drinking water has underscored the need to better understand and regulate the many chemicals in our environment, as well as invest in our environmental cleanup funds. The toxic algae blooms in Lake Champlain remind us that polluted stormwater still hurts our waterways. And, as climate change continues, we are learning how to be resilient in the face of its impacts. We are up for these challenges.
This Earth Day I want to acknowledge the diligence of the many Vermonters, especially those at ANR, whose work to protect our environment ensures that Vermont remains a great place to live, work and raise a family.
By Deb Markowitz