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Scrapbook: Vermont Sierra Club Turns Out to Support Conservation and Affordable Housing

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March 07, 2012

Vermont Sierra Club Turns Out to Support Conservation and Affordable Housing

David-Van-Deusen

The Vermont Sierra Club recently helped turn out more than 150 conservation and affordable housing advocates to a meeting at the state capital to support the Vermont Housing and Conservation Fund, which some members of the state legislature had proposed suspending for a year.

Governor Peter Shumlin and other elected officials spoke at the February 23 meeting, organized by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Coalition with support from the Sierra Club and its partners in the Our Forests Our Future campaign. Sierra Club conservation organizer David Van Deusen, at left, is spearheading the campaign.

Below left, Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott addresses the statehouse gathering; below right, Governor Shumlin with Sierra Club student activists from St. Michael's College, who presented the governor with the latest issue of Sierra magazine, containing an article about how Shumlin and Vermonters are tackling climate change.

Vermont-statehouse-meeting

Affordable housing might seem to be outside the Sierra Club's scope, but the Vermont Housing and Conservation Fund provides resources for forest and farm conservation as well as for the construction of low-income housing.

Our Forests Our Future—part of the Sierra Club's larger Resilient Habitats campaign—is partnering with local communities and Vermont's two state-recognized Abenaki tribes to create a mosaic of new community and tribal forests that will help build wildlife migration corridors and make the state's woodlands more resilient in the face of climate change.

"If we are to make progress in conserving key wildlife corridors through the building of new community forests, we need some basic tools to do so," Van Deusen said in a press release the day of the statehouse event. "The Vermont Housing and Conservation Fund is one of those essential tools."

Vermont-statehouse-meeting

Van Deusen went on to articulate the goals of Our Forests Our Future, which has been endorsed by the Vermont AFL-CIO, 350 Vermont, the Vermont Workers' Center, and the state's Abenaki tribes.

"The new community forests will provide wildlife with more robust habitat, low-income and elderly Vermonters with free or affordable firewood to heat their homes, revenue for social programs through sustainable logging, and they will be a source of recreational tourism and a public place for Vermonters to take deer, moose, and other game to feed their families.

"The Vermont Housing and Conservation Fund is one of the major places where funding for such projects can be found," he said. "That's why we're here."

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene last fall, Governor Shumlin proposed that some Housing and Conservation Fund monies be used to buy damaged homes located in floodplains and covert these parcels back to a natural state. But some members of the General Assembly urged that funding for the Housing and Conservation Fund be eliminated for one year so that all the money could be put into Irene recovery efforts.

In response, Van Deusen wrote to the governor to reiterate the Sierra Club's support for the fund. "As you have said," he wrote, "Irene was an indication of what we can expect as our climate changes, and as our weather becomes more extreme. We should not cut our limited funding for conservation efforts as conservation of our forests helps with carbon sequestration (reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and can help make our game populations more resilient to the negative impacts of climate change."

Along with his letter, Van Deusen included a petition signed by more than 1,000 Vermonters, along with letters from community groups supporting the Sierra Club's conservation goals.

Shumlin wrote back on February 1, saying "the collaboration between housing and conservation in Vermont is one of the most important initiatives in our state that will play a role long into the future." He subsequently called for a $1.2 million increase to the Housing and Conservation Fund, bringing total funding to $14 million for this year.

Below, State Sentor Vince Illuzzi, who spoke in support of the fund.

State-Senator-Vince-Illuzzi

"For us, this is about the environment, economic development, and Irene recovery," Van Deusen said. "The three thousand members of the Vermont Sierra Club believe that the Housing and Conservation Fund will help build a stronger, more resilient environment at the same time as it funds statewide affordable housing efforts. If we are to truly combat climate change and poverty, we must step forward and not back."

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