Staying Connected Initiative – Land Use Planning

The Staying Connective Initiative is an international collaboration which aims to sustain, create, and promote habitat connectivity throughout northern New England (Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine), New York, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Maintaining a viable, unfragmented landscape for wildlife is one of the main focuses of this effort. In total, there are 21 partners working together at a variety of scales to achieve the greater goal of connectivity throughout the Northern Appalachian region of the U.S. and Canada. The Staying Connected Initiative partners work together on projects involving land protection, community outreach, land use planning, transportation, and policy. It is through these efforts that the Staying Connective Initiative hopes to increase wildlife habitat and ensure the survival of native species, reduce any future fragmentation, and educate the public on the benefits of landscape connectivity.

One of the focal areas of Staying Connected Initiative, land use planning, provides technical assistance to municipalities in order to help them with projects that relate to connectivity in their towns. The Staying Connective Initiative supports local action for conservation, ranging from changes to a town plan, creation of new bylaws, to the addition of a wildlife corridor via an overlay district. During town meetings, the Staying Connected Initiative explains the potential opportunities for conservation in the town and then the town is free to decide with options best fit their community. In Vermont, the Vermont Natural Resources Council is one of the organizations that help communities, individuals, organizations, and agencies to develop land use planning strategies.

Project Contact: Jens Hilke
Project Contact Email:
Project Lifespan: 2009-Present
Regional Planning Commision: None
Larger Geography: Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, aMaine, New York, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick
Bylaws, Forest Land, Land Management, Land Protection, Outreach, partnerships, Town Plan, water, wetland, wildlife
Project Accomplishments:

Since their founding in 2009, the Staying Connected Initiative has helped with many technical assistance projects in Vermont. Wildlife overlay districts have been added in the towns of Williston, Hinesburg, Shrewsbury, Hyde Park, and Montgomery. Over twenty communities throughout Vermont and have added new language regarding connectivity in their town plans or their zoning and subdivision bylaws. Multiple regional planning commissions have also connectivity provisions to their plans. Through the hundreds of presentations, numerous walks and talks, town board meetings, and conservation commission group meetings, the general awareness of habitat connectivity and its benefits has increased significantly. In other regards, the native wildlife and plants protected by these actions are most likely being positivity affected by the above changes.

Project Partners:

Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department
Vermont Natural Resources Council
National Wildlife Federation
Nature Conservancy – Vermont Chapter

Critical to Success:

Many of the project’s accomplishments would not have been possible without the technical assistance support provided free of charge. State Wildlife Grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helped cover the costs of this project. Having different partner groups was critical to success because it allowed for a diversification of tasks among experts in their field. Additionally, empowering municipalities to ask what habitat connectivity will look like in their town was essential; the towns are in control of regulating their land use, not the state of Vermont. In this regard, it was important to portray Staying Connected Initiative’s role as a conduit for information by giving them the full range of options and letting them choose which was most suitable for their community.


The timeline difference between funding and project deliverables was one of the more prominent challenges for this project. The funding was often done on a yearly or biyearly schedule, whereas in some cases it took several years for a town to reflect on and implement changes. The staff capacity of Staying Connective Initiative sometimes had trouble addressing the overwhelming amount of interest conveyed by the 251 towns within the linkage area. Lastly, the constant turnover of town board member composition within the towns was sometimes challenging, as it was a constant effort to reeducate the officials and assess whether the town’s priorities for conservation remained the same.

Associated Projects:
The Staying Connected Initiative