Forests, Wildlife & Communities Project in the Mad River Valley
The Forests, Wildlife, and Communities Project is a collaborative effort between multiple towns and organizations within the Mad River Valley (Fayston, Waitsfield, and Warren). The goal of the project is to raise awareness around strategies to conserve forestland, wildlife, and natural resources. Project partners utilized information from ecological inventories in three towns to produce maps to promote land use planning, zoning and permanent land conservation efforts. Project partners also developed build out models to demonstrate how unmitigated growth would impact natural resource features, and how certain land use and zoning strategies could do a better job of conserving wildlife habitat and large blocks of forestland. Through a steering committee, the project coordinated raising awareness around the need to conserve large forest blocks that were located in multiple towns. Project partners promoted direct outreach to landowners and technical assistance to conservation and planning commissions. Project partners also created a website to house maps, ecological inventories, and resources for conservation and planning commissions and landowners.
Fayston, Waitsfield, Warren
Bylaws, Forest Land, Inventory, Outreach, partnerships, Town Plan, wetland, wildlife
The Forests, Wildlife, and Communities Project has accomplished the development of 1.) conservation planning maps 2.) build-out models to inform land-use planning 3.) a publication outlining regulatory and non-regulatory strategies for conserving forests and wildlife, 4.) direct technical assistance to planning commissions and conservation commissions for strengthening town plans and zoning bylaws 5.) community values maps, and 7.) a website housing information on the project.
Vermont Natural Resources Council, Mad River Valley Planning District, representatives from the towns of Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston, local realtors, and local and statewide conservation organizations and agencies including Friends of the Mad River, Audubon Vermont, Vermont Coverts, Vermont Land Trust, Trust for Public Land, the Nature Conservancy, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, and the United States Forest Service.
The main reason this project was successful is because of the level of collaboration between multiple towns to focus on forestland and wildlife conservation at the watershed scale. The Vermont Natural Resources Council organized the project and raised money for its implementation. The Mad River Valley Planning District helped coordinate the multi-town effort and house the website for the project. This project was a pilot approach for conservation planning at the multi-town level and this approach has now been successfully replicated in other parts of Vermont such as the Chittenden Uplands region. Another important component of success was the fact that at least three towns had an ecological inventory that provided a baseline level of information to inform conservation planning efforts.
The biggest challenge to the project is sustaining grant money to support the overall coordination of the project. When certain grants ended, it was hard to keep the initiative moving forward on a voluntary basis. Another challenge is it takes time to improve land use regulations to support natural resource conservation. Improving land use regulations requires educating the public on the benefits of making regulatory or zoning changes. Sometimes it takes years to build enough awareness and public support to protect natural resource features such as critical wildlife habitat through land use planning mechanisms.