Vermont Wildlife Action Plan

By the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

A 2000 survey revealed that 97 percent of Vermont residents indicated it is important to them that ecologically important habitats and lands in Vermont are protected, and 95 percent indicated knowing that Vermont’s native fish and wildlife populations are healthy is very important. Another survey in 2001 ranked Vermont first in the nation in percentage of residents that actively observed wildlife (60%). But the problems impacting wildlife have changed and increased in intensity in the past few decades. Vermont’s Wildlife Action Plan was developed to harness the Vermont conservation ethic to effectively address these new problems and to engage new constituencies with a goal of proactively conserving all wildlife species.

Vermont’s Wildlife Action Plan is a statewide, all-species conservation strategy. It provides a science-based foundation for understanding wildlife needs, and it serves as a common conservation vision to guide local, state and federal agencies, sportsmen’s and non-profit conservation organizations and the general public in wildlife conservation. Actions identified in the plan are primarily voluntary and incentive-based. Species Assessment Reports form the base of the action plan, and identify Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN). These include 144 vertebrates (brook trout to peregrine falcon to bobcat to wood turtle) and 191 invertebrates (tawny emperor butterfly to cobblestone tiger beetle to the fragile papershell mussel). The action plan also describes the habitats and landscapes used by these species within Habitat/Landscape Summary Reports.

The action plan further identifies the specific problems facing both Species of Greatest Conservation Need and the habitats and landscapes upon which they depend. Conservation strategies are identified for each. By addressing both species-specific and habitat/landscape needs, Vermonters can target conservation resources at the appropriate level to strategically conserve all of the state’s wildlife.

Primary Challenges to Conserving Wildlife in Vermont

Vermont’s Wildlife Action Plan identified 22 major categories of problems adversely affecting SGCN or their habitats. The most common, widespread and serious problems include loss of habitat (due to conversion, degradation, fragmentation and lack of needed successional stages), the impacts of roads, pollution and sedimentation, invasive species, climate change, and data gaps and information needs.

Habitat Loss

Though many agencies and organizations work diligently to conserve important wildlife habitats, Vermont continues to lose approximately 525 acres of significant habitat each year to regulated development alone. Regulated development in Vermont constitutes approximately one-third of the total development that occurs on an annual basis. Significant habitats include deer winter range, wetlands with significant wildlife functions, habitat for rare, threatened and endangered species, and several types of habitat necessary for the survival of black bears. These habitats represent only a few of the many habitats that are affected by loss due to development.

Impacts of Roads

In the last quarter of the 20th century, Vermont expanded its road system by an average of 26 miles per year to a total of about 14,000 miles. The number of vehicle miles traveled by Vermont residents is growing at seven times the rate of population growth. Transportation systems can cause numerous problems for wildlife, including: vehicle-wildlife collisions; reduced animal and fish passage, thus limiting habitat availability and isolating populations; vehicle emissions of pollutants such as ozone and greenhouse gases; and the spread of exotic, invasive species into otherwise healthy areas.

Invasive Exotic Species

The introduction and spread of nuisance exotic species may lead to the elimination of native wildlife populations, threaten long-term stability of habitats and even lead to extirpation by out-competing a native species, displacing its food source or altering a key process or function of a habitat. Invasive exotic species in Vermont include Eurasian watermilfoil, purple loosestrife, common buckthorn, Japanese knotweed, Morrow’s honeysuckle, goutweed, black swallowwort, alewife and zebra mussels.

Pollutants and Sedimentation

Pollutants and sediments can significantly impact SGCN, particularly aquatic species, and include: sands and silts; chemicals and toxins; excess nutrients from farm and municipal sewage plants; garbage and other solid waste; radioactive materials; road salt; excessive noise; excessive heat; and light pollution that disturbs animals and disrupts migration patterns. Sediments can be a problem for SGCN through their physical presence alone; for example, soils washed into a stream from a construction site can smother fish eggs and other aquatic species living in the spaces between rocks and in the gravel streambed. 

Global Warming

Long-term changes linked to global warming can drive major changes in habitat availability (e.g., high elevation habitats, wintering areas and migration stopovers), vegetative composition and location (e.g., the movement up in elevation or north in latitude, invasion by exotic pests), and climate variability (e.g., change in snow depth, rainfall and/or natural disturbances). Specific details as to how climate change is affecting Vermont’s wildlife today are unknown, but the pervasiveness and scale of the problem requires that we begin taking action now.

Working Together for Vermont’s Wildlife

Vermont’s Wildlife Action Plan was developed over the course of two years with extensive public involvement throughout. Numerous stakeholders from local, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, sportsmen groups, and the public at large were involved in every phase of development. These Conservation Partners took part in Action Plan development through service on technical, review and guidance committees. Partners helped select Species of Greatest Conservation Need, identified problems impacting wildlife, developed conservation strategies and influenced the organization of the Action Plan. The general public was kept abreast of plan development through public meetings and presentations to stakeholder groups, media outreach and through Fish & Wildlife Department publications and website.

Just as with its development, Wildlife Action Plan implementation will require a diverse and active coalition of partners to realize the plan’s goal of conserving Vermont’s wildlife before species become so rare that it is expensive or impossible to save them. The Action Plan includes actions that almost any individual or organization can implement and any and all interested partners are encouraged to take part.

 

The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies represents all of North America’s fish and wildlife agencies, promotes sound management and conservation, and speaks with a unified voice on important fish and wildlife issues.

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