I was sailing on Lake Champlain thanks to lessons from Burlington’s own Community Sailing Center, and ruminating on the Lake Champlain Biosphere Reserve. Although virtually nobody living near the lake realizes this, the Champlain basin is supposed to be a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – in fact, it is listed as one from time to time.
Normally, listing something as a biosphere reserve requires fairly modest changes – in order to keep an area listed, governments have to take certain steps, like regulating pollution, human access, and providing ongoing research on biological processes in the area. This would have kept the Lake Champlain region – which is an international basin – linked to international, federal, and local politics.
However, a lack of attention to the concerns of local stakeholders scuttled the project in the early 2000s. Based on interviews I had with people intimately connected to the initial attempts to get the Biosphere registered, suspicion – particularly among the New Yorkers in the Champlain Basin – about signing over sovereign territory to the UN reigned supreme. With language invoking UN Black Helicopters, the states of Vermont and New York failed to get traction towards finalizing the effort. Too bad. It might have been one way to get faster early attention to ongoing water pollution issues in the Lake.