Environmental Awareness

"in its pragmatic, workmanlike way, Vermont has wrought an environmental revolution." Governor Deane Davis.

Condominiums being built in Warren in 1985.The delicate balance between the needs of tourists and the needs of Vermonters, and between state and local management of the environment, was severely challenged in the decades after World War II. The expanding ski industry, along with Vermont’s growing population and changing economic base, put new strains on the state’s landscape and natural resources. The state government, under both Democratic and Republican leadership, took the lead in mandating environmental reforms.

In 1968 billboards were banned, a victory for supporters of a cause that had started in the 1930s to preserve Vermont’s scenic beauty. In 1969, Republican Governor Deane Davis appointed a Commission on Environmental Control, charging it with the responsibility of devising a plan to improve environmental preservation while nurturing development. The Commission’s report concluded that the loss of open spaces, the threat to Vermonters’ health posed by excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers, and haphazard development were irreparably harming the landscape. The next session of the legislature took up the question of environmental regulation, and the product of their deliberations was Act 250, the first major land development control act in America. In the same session Act 252 was passed, setting water quality standards for the state. In 1972 a bottle deposit law was enacted to control litter. Act 200, which strengthened local, regional, and state planning efforts, was passed in 1988.

Since its inception, Act 250 has been revised a number of times, but it continues to produce controversy. Landowners and developers believe it deprives them of their property rights, while supporters who view environmental preservation as a top priority feel it has given them a voice in community development. But the general premise behind Act 250—that Vermont needs to balance development with preservation—remains popular.

Postcards from the 1930s promoting the banning of billboards.

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