VT: VNRC and Fish & Wildlife Issue Report – A Decade of Progress: Wildlife Considerations in Local Planning

MONTPELIER, Vt – Vermonters overwhelmingly want to conserve
wildlife habitat such as deeryards, trout streams, and bear
habitat. Cities and towns have made noticeable strides in improving
attention to wildlife habitat and natural resource conservation,
and nearly every municipality recognizes wildlife habitat as an
important local resource, according to a recent report issued by
the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and the Vermont Natural
Resources Council.

The report, Wildlife Considerations in Local Planning – An
Evaluation of a Decade of Progress in Vermont, was based on a
detailed assessment of all municipal plans and related zoning
bylaws and subdivision regulations adopted by Vermont
communities.

While most towns recommend the conservation of wildlife habitat
in their municipal plans, the report documents a significant lag
between plan recommendations and actual implementation of binding
standards in local bylaws.

The report demonstrates that towns overwhelmingly recognize the
public benefits of wildlife habitat. Over the past decade,
municipalities have made many gains in mapping and recommending
protection of wildlife habitat in municipal plans. The report
credits the work of the Fish and Wildlife Department and technical
assistance providers in increasing the availability of resources
for towns.

“Community outreach and technical assistance for land use
planning is a priority for us,” said John Austin a wildlife
biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. “This
report affirms the many benefits of the Department’s Community
Wildlife Program and technical assistance from organizations like
Regional Planning Commissions and non-profits like Vermont Natural
Resources Council and others,” Austin added.

In light of these positive findings, the authors found there is
a noticeable disconnect between what wildlife values Vermonters say
they want to conserve and the actual implementation of those goals
in zoning and subdivision regulations. The report recommends that
the state and others continue to help communities bridge the gap
between their planning vision and the implementation of that
vision. In addition, the report suggests that municipalities need
to pay more attention to specific concepts that affect wildlife and
habitat conservation, such as habitat fragmentation, habitat
connectivity, invasive species, and climate change. The information
highlights the importance of wildlife and land to Vermonters and
draws a connection to the myriad of interests including hunters,
anglers, trappers, hikers, bird watchers, local schools, and many
more.

“Over the past several years, more and more Vermonters, through
their town plans, have clearly and repeatedly said, ‘our wildlife
heritage is important’ – now there is a need for on-the-ground work
to assure those values are reflected in specific municipal
policies,” said Jamey Fidel, VNRC’s general counsel and forest and
biodiversity program director. “This is especially true in light of
Vermont Supreme Court guidance that instructs that towns must be
very specific with natural resource and wildlife habitat
conservation and protection policies,” added Fidel.

Vermont relies heavily on local government for land use
planning. For instance, according to an in-depth review of
subdivision activity in eight towns conducted by VNRC, just five of
380 subdivision proposals were subject to Act 250 jurisdiction.

“Decisions about the long-term health of the state’s wildlife
habitat lie largely in the hands of local boards, commissions and
private landowners, who meet in our town halls and school
cafeterias,” said Jens Hawkins-Hilke, a conservation planning
biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. “These
very busy and committed volunteers have day jobs, families, and in
many cases need additional technical assistance to implement their
town’s vision for its wildlife.”

According to VNRC and the Fish and Wildlife Department, there
needs to be a shift from planning to implementation over the next
10 years. “There is a huge need for more technical assistance as we
shift towards implementation given that decisions are made at a
local level by volunteers on planning commissions and development
review boards,” said Brian Shupe, Deputy Director of VNRC.

The report is the result of months of detailed, technical, and
comprehensive review of 248 town plans, 219 municipal zoning
regulations, 204 zoning bylaws, and 137 subdivision regulations.
The report compared results from a similar study performed ten
years ago, and offers specific findings and recommendations.

To read the report and its recommendations go to either the
VNRC’s website (VNRC.org) or the Vermont Fish and Wildlife website
(vtfishandwildlife.com).

About VNRC

The Vermont Natural Resources Council is an independent,
member-based, nonprofit research, education, and advocacy
organization founded in 1963 to protect Vermont’s environment,
economy, and quality of life.

About the Vt Fish and Wildlife Department

The MISSION of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is the
conservation of fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for
the people of Vermont. www.vtfishandwildlife.com

Editors: A summary of the report findings are provided below.:

Municipalities have improved attention to wildlife conservation
through land use plans:

• Ninety-nine percent of municipal plans identify wildlife habitat
as an important resource.

• Ninety-nine percent of municipal plans identify some form of
habitat or wildlife feature (an increase of 8% from 2000).

• Ninety-one percent of town plans include mapped data (up from 52%
in 2000.)

• Eighty-seven percent of all municipal plans recommend the
protection of wildlife habitat.

• Eighty-six percent of plans include some form of natural resource
inventory data (up 11% from 2000.)

• Eighty-three percent of municipal plans note public benefits
associated with wildlife habitat (up from 62% in 2000).

• Only half of municipal plans identify the effect of habitat
fragmentation on wildlife habitat (42% note the importance of
habitat connectivity and travel corridors)

• Just two percent identify the importance and/or relevance of
climate change effects on wildlife habitat

Local zoning lags behind municipal plans•

• A small percentage of the zoning bylaws reviewed contain
conditional use standards or site plan requirements that mention
wildlife habitat or specific wildlife related considerations.

• Of the 211 zoning bylaws reviewed, 88% include conditional use
standards, but only 17% of these standards mention wildlife
habitat.

• 75% of zoning bylaws include site plan requirements, but only 18%
of these standards mention wildlife habitat.

• 51% include some form of conservation district (49% of which
mention wildlife habitat).

• 39% include explicit riparian buffers (the average buffer width
was 42 feet)

• 22% include a forest reserve district (40% of which specifically
mention wildlife habitat).

• 2% of the municipalities include a specific definition of
“wildlife habitat” in their zoning bylaws.

• 1% of the municipalities (3 municipalities) include a wildlife
habitat overlay district.

Subdivision regulations are an increasingly important tool for
conserving habitat:

• Of the 133 subdivision regulations reviewed, 89% include planning
standards, 46% of which mention wildlife habitat.

• 51% of municipalities in Vermont have subdivision regulations;
however only 8% of these municipalities include a specific
definition of wildlife habitat in these regulations.

 

 

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