Tiered Ecological Communities Map – From Science to Planning

The Forests, Wildlife, and Communities Project is a collaboration among the Mad River Valley Planning District, local and state conservation organizations, state and federal agencies, and representatives in the towns in the Mad River Valley. The Forests, Wildlife, and Communities Project is involved in various efforts throughout the Mad River Valley which seek to implement a regional and landscape level approach to wildlife and forestland conservation through public and community involvement. One of the projects associated with the Forests, Wildlife, and Communities Project, involved the creation of tiered ecological community maps for the Mad River Valley area. These maps were created using the information provided from natural resource inventories conducted by Arrowwood Environmental in the towns of Fayston, Waitsfield, and Warren. The inventories included information on wildlife habitats, upland natural communities, wetlands, vernal pools, contiguous habitat, corridors, and rare elements present in these three towns.

The map categorized the land as primary, secondary, or tertiary conservation priority areas. The primary areas may contain rare, threatened, or endangered species, vernal pools, riparian habitats, locally significant natural communities, or road crossings. Secondary and tertiary conservation areas may also include some of these important species, habitats, or community types, but often have larger buffers and are more resilient to human encroachment. Thus, development is less restricted in secondary areas, and even less so in tertiary conservation areas, whereas development in primary conservation areas is heavily regulated or prohibited.

Natural resource inventories can be overwhelming to those without an extensive science background, and this project aimed to increase the usefulness of the information gained from the inventory by translating the inventory findings from a hard science language to a more applicable action planning viewpoint. Once the inventory documents were translated, town planning commissions or conservation commissions could consider the opportunities for conservation in their community, and potentially implement these actions in future zoning or planning regulations. This tool is intended for municipal and watershed level planning by municipal governments. The map highlights areas of ecological importance in hopes that it will be used in tandem with community-based value mapping, to guide future changes to planning and zoning strategies.
Project Contact: Jens Hilke
Project Contact Email: Jens.Hilke@state.vt.us
Year Completed: 2011
Project Lifespan: 2007-2011
Project Accomplishments:
This tiered ecological priorities map, created by Jens Hilke at Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and under the guidance of the Forests, Wildlife, and Communities project, was completed in 2011. Since its completion, the towns of Fayston, Waitsfield, and Warren have used their town maps to advise their planning processes. This map also serves as a case study for towns wishing to make use of their natural resource inventories, by providing a usable form for planners which explains the methodology used in this project.
Project Partners:
Audubon Vermont David Dion Real Estate Fayston Conservation Commission Fayston Planning Commission Fayston Select Board Friends of the Mad River Green Mountain National Forest Mad River Valley Planning District National Forest Foundation National Wildlife Federation Town of Warren Planning Commission United State Forest Service - Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department Vermont Land Trust Vermont Natural Resources Council Waitsfield Conservation Commission Waitsfield Development Review Board and VNRC Warren Conservation Commission Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District
Critical to Success:
Having the paid support of Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department as well as paid capacity from Vermont Natural Resources Council was essential to the success of this project. The inventory work was made possible by a Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development Grant. The robust steering committee through the Forests, Wildlife, and Communities Project was crucial in that it represented various interests of townspeople and town boards and provided access to experts who could translate science into planning. It is also important to note that this project is one piece of a larger effort by the Forests, Wildlife, and Communities Project, and would have not been as successful without the various additional efforts (i.e. community value mapping, education forums at farmers markets) associated with the Forests, Wildlife, and Communities Project.
Translation from science to conservation priority is subjective, and various perspectives on relative ecological importance created challenges for the priority area classifications and map creation. Providing meaningful technical assistance to the planning commissions and conservation commissions to help them utilize the map was long and costly.