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Landowners Kick Off Wildlife Corridor Conservation

Dale and Eric Smeltzer donated a conservation easement on 287 acres of their forestland on the west side of the corridor off of Gregg Hill Rd in Waterbury Center.

The Curtis-Swenson family at the closing of their 63-acre property located on North Hill Rd in Stowe.

The future of the Shutesville Hill Wildlife Corridor is now a little more secure thanks to a group of local landowners who have stepped up to permanently protect their land for wildlife on the move.

The Shutesville Hill Wildlife Corridor crosses Route 100 on the Waterbury-Stowe town line, providing the most important connection point between the Green Mountains and Worcester Range. It is one of the five most important wildlife crossings in the state, and a critical part of an international network of connected forest habitats in the northeast.

With support from private donors and foundations, Stowe Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy and Vermont Land Trust raised $500,000 to cover acquisition and project costs associated with helping interested owners of high-priority parcels within the corridor protect their land.

“It has been fantastic to see the initial enthusiasm and support from these early adopters, as well as our local and regional communities, for protecting this important wildlife corridor,” Kristen Sharpless, executive director of Stowe Land Trust, said. “We hope that the success of this kick-off effort will be an inspirational catalyst for additional conservation work that is needed to protect this threatened and critical area.”

“Conservation science shows that species are moving on average 11 miles north and 30 feet in elevation in response to a changing climate,” said Jim Shallow, director of conservation for the conservancy. “Wildlife does not adhere to borders, so we are working here at this location, throughout Vermont, New England, and across the Canadian border, to ensure that wildlife pathways are secured in a shifting landscape.

Protected properties

Conservation easements restrict development and subdivision in order to keep critical habitat intact, but allow landowners to continue to use their land for compatible uses including forestry and to choose whether or not to post their land. Because their land will remain in private ownership, landowners will also continue to pay property taxes.

• The first project to launch the collaborative effort was the purchase of a 10-acre parcel whose significance is measured by geography rather than size. Bought by The Nature Conservancy from the Lackey family, the tract is one of the few remaining undeveloped parcels with frontage on the highly traveled and fast-developing Route 100 within a small but critical road crossing right on the Stowe-Waterbury town line.

• Chris Curtis and Tari Swenson conserved 63 acres of their property on North Hill in the heart of the corridor, ensuring the land will remain undeveloped and continue to have visitors, like a mother bear and her two cubs that were spotted on a recent visit. They sold a conservation easement below appraised value to the Vermont Land Trust.

• Eric and Dale Smeltzer donated a conservation easement to Vermont Land Trust on 287 acres that abut Mt. Mansfield State Forest off of Gregg Hill Road. Funds from the Catalyst Campaign covered legal and project costs for their donation.

“Knowing that we are part of a large region-wide project is very exciting,” Dale Smeltzer said. “Conserving property in this wildlife corridor makes us feel more connected to our forestland—as if we’re now managing it with more purpose for the future.”

• The Stowe Land Trust is working with the Trust for Public Land on the Hunger Mountain Headwaters project to conserve a 109-acre property currently owned by Charlie and Gibby Berry nestled up against the Worcester Range in Stowe, and an additional 1,800 acres in Middlesex and Worcester. Both of these properties will be added to the adjacent CC Putnam State Forest, and will add quality forested habitat on the eastern edge of the wildlife corridor.

“Conserving these properties was only possible due to generous landowners who are protecting their forestland and wildlife habitat,” said Bob Heiser, regional director for Vermont Land Trust. “We hope that protecting these key properties will inspire others to consider doing the same.”

Protecting biodiversity

The Shutesville Wildlife Corridor Partnership consists of the Waterbury Conservation Commission, Stowe Conservation Commission, Stowe Land Trust, Vermont Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, Vermont Agency of Transportation, two regional planning commissions, and many community volunteers.

“Conserving these lands is such a gift to our community and wildlife,” said Allan Thompson of the Waterbury Conservation Commission. “What started as a local education initiative was bolstered by state wildlife science, propelled by the support of land trusts and conservation organizations, and developed into a productive relationship between diverse conservation partners. I am thankful for the community’s support of wildlife and of this partnership.”

Sound conservation science shines a spotlight on Vermont’s outsized regional role in protecting biodiversity. The state is at the center of the largest remaining block of deciduous temperate forest in the world, and the state’s geography places it at the crossroads of six critical wildlife corridors. 

Public events

Community members are invited to join the partnership at upcoming events, which are free and open to the public: 

• Sunday, Sept. 29: 1 to 4 p.m. Wildlife workshop and cell-phone photo contest, 1601 Barnes Hill Road, Waterbury Center.

• Tuesday, Oct. 15: 7 to 8 p.m. Managing Your Land for Wildlife, presentation by Andrea Shortsleeve at the Green Mountain Club Visitor Center, Waterbury Center.

• Thursday, Dec. 5: 7 to 9 p.m. Moose Status in the Northeast, presentation by Elias Rosenblatt at the Green Mountain Club Visitor Center in Waterbury Center.

Source: The Stowe Reporter