Healthy Forests & Wildlife
Vermont’s forested landscape is central to our state’s identity and economy. From traditional jobs in the woods, to recreational opportunities for hunters, hikers and anglers, to helping filter and clean our waters, mitigating the effects of climate change, and providing a home for iconic wildlife – healthy forests are an essential asset for Vermont.
Unfortunately, recent studies show our forests are at risk. The legislatively-commissioned 2015 Forest Fragmentation Report, developed by the Agency of Natural Resources, highlights many of the concerning trends. With the vast majority (80%) of Vermont’s forestland in private ownership, one major concern is a large-scale shift in forest ownership and management. The average age of forestland owners in Vermont is greater than 65 years old, which means that a lot of forested parcels will be changing hands in the coming years. As land changes hands, parcels are often divided up into smaller segments with more landowners. The anticipated large-scale transition of land ownership in the next twenty years threatens to dramatically change our landscape. Further, the current rate of land development is increasing at twice the rate of our state’s population growth and land use patterns in rural areas, where much of our forestland is concentrated, is leading to the increasing fragmentation of forests.
When forests are fragmented, their overall health and habitat quality declines, resulting in reduced biodiversity, more exotic, invasive species, reduced recreational and hunting access, reduced water quality, and smaller tracts that can’t support a working forest economy. Given the current threats to our forests, we have an opportunity to manage these trends by putting in place proactive measures to maintain Vermont’s healthy, intact tracts of forest for current and future generations to enjoy.
In 2016, the Vermont Legislature enacted the Forest Integrity Bill, which encouraged better local and regional planning for intact, healthy forests and wildlife habitat. It added the goals of maintaining forest blocks and habitat connectivity to town and regional planning; took steps to maintain rural working lands; called for a study group to examine ways to help landowners plan for the long-term ownership of their forests; and created a committee to recommend potential revisions to Act 250 and municipal bylaws to protect contiguous areas of forestland from fragmentation and promote habitat connectivity. We plan to build on this work to ensure we have the tools needed to protect intact forests, including the following legislative solutions.
2017 Legislative Priorities:
- Update existing Act 250 criteria to better address forest fragmentation, the maintenance of intact forest blocks, and habitat connectivity.
- Implement tax incentives to encourage the maintenance of intact tracts of forest as land changes hands, particularly in priority habitat blocks.