AIV Forest Policy Task Force / Vermont SFI Summer Meeting
July 19, 2017
Capitol Plaza Hotel and Conference Center
About 50 people from four different Northeastern states involved in the forest products industry attended the summer meeting of the SFI-AIV Forest Policy Task Force. Several topics were on the agenda and a great amount of high quality conversations took place addressing concerns and challenges of forestry in Vermont. Business owners and managers of sawmills, consulting foresters, biomass plants and Government officials came together for this biannual event.
The meeting began with a Legislative update for the past session by Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation (FPR) Mike Snyder, Deputy Commissioner of FPR Sam Lincoln and Ed Larson, Executive Director of the Vermont Traditions Coalition (VTC) and Lobbyist for the Vermont Forest Products Association (VFPA). The reports were on average upbeat as this was a more business and forestry friendly session than we have experienced in past years. Two economic development bills were passed that has some provisions with positive impacts on the forestry community. Exempting the sales tax on logging equipment and parts, clarifying the off-road diesel tax, skidder bridge cost share program and a comprehensive review of the workers’ compensation program on higher risk jobs were highlighted.
The balance of the morning session was an in-depth conversation on the Workers’ Compensation System in Vermont. Deputy Commissioner Sam Lincoln has done a tremendous amount of research on how Vermont laws, regulations and employment conditions affect our premiums and helped us better understand why Vermont premium rates are so much higher than the other states in our region. We heard from John Bartow, Executive Director of the Empire State Forest Products Association and Jason Stock of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association (NHTOA) both explaining the current status and recent changes to workers’ compensation in their state. Insurance Agent Lew Castle provided several excellent pointers on things an employer can and should do to manage their policies. Associated Industries of Vermont (AIV) Vice President William Driscoll shared information on current legislative proposals and highlighted statutory differences of the more generous benefits of Vermont’s law to others. Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak reported that average rates went down 8% this year in Vermont and that he was putting together a team to conduct the study to review combining high risk job classes into a single pool. Finally, Lindsay Kurrie, Commissioner of Labor shared her perspective and willingness to work with us on solutions.
At lunch, Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources Julie Moore presented a speech on the importance of working forests, and the people who work them, to sustaining Vermont’s economy, environment, character, and culture. She answered several questions pertaining to privatizing some forestry functions and expanding the role of licensed foresters.
Paul Frederick, Program Leader for Wood Utilization and Energy offered a high quality, detailed volume and economic report on timber harvesting and wood flows in Vermont. Attendees gained a much better understanding of current conditions and trends of the forest products industry in Vermont.
The final segment involved Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife Dept. Louis Porter and its Director of Wildlife Mark Scott discussing fish and wildlife issues including the aggressive acquisition plan of the Silvio Conte Wildlife Refuge. FPR Commissioner Mike Snyder joined in. Jason Stock of the NHTOA presented an economic analysis of the impacts of the acquisition plan of the US Fish and Wildlife Service seeking to expand the Silvio Conte Wildlife Refuge in the Connecticut River watershed. Amounting to over $17 million of annual economic loss in a total build out, attendees expressed strong concerns about the loss of timber resources and tax revenue for the local towns. Commissioner Porter and Director Scott did their best to explain their role in the acquisition process and how the US Fish and Wildlife Service are good partners in conservation of wildlife resources. The general consensus of the attendees differed in that Vermonters owning Vermont land will better serve the future of our economic needs and protect ecological values.