Vermont judge rejects lawsuit over logging on state lands

Judge rules the environmental advocacy group Standing Trees, "lacks standing" to bring the legal challenge before the state court.

A Vermont judge has tossed out a lawsuit filed by an environmental group seeking to block the harvesting of trees from state forests and parklands.

In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Timothy Tomasi sided with the state Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation in a dispute over Vermont’s land management system that allows logging on state land. Tomasi said plaintiffs in the case, the environmental advocacy group Standing Trees, "lacks standing" to bring the legal challenge before the state court.

The legal challenge centered around Vermont's forestry management plan for Camel's Hump State Forest, which calls for logging roughly 3,800 acres of forest over the next 15 years.

In 2022, Standing Trees and a pair of Vermont residents filed a lawsuit against the state, asking the court to block the agencies from authorizing new timber contracts in state forests, parks and wildlife management areas until new rules considering environmental and climate impacts are adopted.

One of the plaintiffs in the case, Jamison Ervin of Duxbury, says Vermont is "sacrificing the public good and public safety for dubious economic gains" and lacks rules for the harvesting of timber from taxpayer-owned lands.

“The public interest should come first in public land management, including tackling our climate emergency, safeguarding biodiversity, and protecting downstream communities — like Duxbury — from increasingly extreme storms, such as we saw with Hurricane Irene," he said in a statement on the lawsuit.

In court filings, the state argued that it "closely evaluates" every timber harvesting site and weighs the impact of harvesting on "forest health, species composition, soil characteristics, wildlife habitat and the presence of rare, threatened and endangered species.”

While Vermont’s 2020 Global Warming Solutions Act requires state agencies to weigh greenhouse gas emissions in their decision-making processes, the state's land management plans rules don’t consider greenhouse gas emissions or flooding, lawyers for the group alleged.

In a statement on social media, Standing Trees said it was "disappointed" by the judge's ruling on "transparency and accountability in the management of VT state lands, but this courtroom drama is far from over. We will continue fighting to Save Public Forests!"

The state's forestry industry says that harvesting trees helps the local economy by providing good-paying jobs and argues the practice has become more sustainable with new trees being replanted to help capture excess carbon emissions.

Critics say the overharvesting of trees has severely impacted Vermont's wilderness. Allowing the practice on state lands to continue will contribute to climate change and reduce outdoor access for residents, among other concerns.