Thanks to the Internet, basic research is now so easy that even a caveman can do it. Thus, this troglodyte was able to determine that the phrase "howling wilderness" comes from the Bible, specifically Deuteronomy XXXII-10, and that since then it's been applied to a number of places, among them northern New England, and specifically to that part of the region traversed by Benedict Arnold's army in the course of his unsuccessful assault on Quebec.
There's a book by that name: "Through a Howling Wilderness, Benedict Arnold's March to Quebec, 1775" by one Thomas desJardin, which describes in some detail the Maine woods as Arnold's army struggled through it (them?) not unlike Roger's Rangers' struggles through the Vermont woods 16 years earlier as his troops returned south from their 1759 St. Francis raid, a story vividly told in the 1940 movie, Northwest Passage. In subsequent decades that same countryside was cleared for farmland and villages (in the late 19th century it was 80 percent cleared, and now it's the other way, about 80 percent wooded) in non-professionally-regulated patterns of land use, sub-division, urbanization, and development, which proved to be so attractive to vacationing urbanites that they began moving in as soon as the railroads were put in through and suitably up-scale accommodations built and staffed. They and their peer-groups haven't stopped since.
Now the descendants of those early in-migrants, as well as new ones in sufficient numbers to create a dominant political majority, want to re-create as much as possible of Roger's and Arnold's howling wilderness by taking land out of use and back into forests. Of course, the paper and lumber industries have been doing just that for more than a century, buying up woods and abandoned farms for forestry purposes, but it has been with their own nickel, and for actual -ugh-commercial use. The new forestry/wilderness initiative is typically conceived by the Beautiful People who aggressively advocate this sort of "re-wilding" (their phrase, not mine) and prefer using OPM, Other Peoples' Money, rather than their own, and so it's perhaps not surprising that you'll find an earmark for this purpose inside the recent Farm Bill (silly you, thinking that the Farm Bill was about pricing structures for farm commodities), inserted there by Vermont's own Senator Patrick Leahy, "to create and include the new Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program in the 2008 Farm Bill". The quote comes from a laudatory press release by a national advocacy group calling itself "The Trust for Public Land". Whether this sort of thing ought to be tacked onto a Farm Bill (in my opinion, as befits an opinion column) I'd say is highly challengeable; whether it ought to be called an "earmark", with all the pejorative overtones which accompany that word, I'd say "yes" but I offer the following Office of Management & Budget definition for you to decide for yourself. Here's what the OMB says:
"Earmarks are funds provided by the Congress for projects or programs where the Congressional direction (in bill or report language) circumvents the merit-based or competitive allocation process, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the Executive Branch to properly manage funds".
The nominal purpose of this earmark may well be to re-create at least a little of the "howling wilderness" experienced by the troops under Roger's and Arnold's commands, but a closer read of the press release suggests a more pressing agenda: development prevention. Consider, for example, this quote, which views with alarm the prospect of "500,000 acres of private forestland considered at extreme risk for development in and around Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest" by 2030.
As a counterpoint, consider this quote from Robert Bruegman's 2005 book Sprawl: A Compact History, to be found on page 57. It speaks of "affluent citizens", those whom I more crudely described above as the Beautiful People, who "have found that they can use zoning ordinances, historic preservation measures, environmental regulations, and other means to resist continued change, to control the appearance and character of their neighborhoods, and stop densities from rising". Further into the book (page 151) he writes of the "obvious class bias in these judgments" and a bit further (page 162) he writes of such already-in-place folks doing so for "personal advantage" and refers to them as "the incumbents' club". There's more but I must stop here; my editor forbids me to sprawl over more column-inches.
Former Vermonter Martin Harris lives in Tennessee.