A key piece of the Shutesville Hill Wildlife Corridor is at risk of development and Stowe Land Trust and its partners need to raise a final $99,000 by the end of December.
The 83-acre forested property in the heart of the corridor has been on the market for over a year and is at high risk for development, according to land trust executive director Kristen Sharpless.
“We can’t let this opportunity to protect this critical piece of habitat pass us by,” she said. “It’s now or never.
The corridor is on the Stowe-Waterbury town line and is the only viable connection between the Green Mountains and the 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.
“Shutesville Hill is an amazing, critical resource for wildlife,” Jens Hilke, conservation planner with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, said. “It is the only pathway of large, connected forest habitat that links the Worcester Range to the northern Green Mountains. It’s part of a much larger swath of forest that serves as a connected network across the entire Northern Appalachians. There’s simply no other connector in the region as important for wildlife on the move, especially in the face of a changing climate.”
Local and regional conservation organizations have been collaborating to protect the corridor for more than a decade. The Shutesville Hill Wildlife Corridor Partnership includes the Waterbury Conservation Commission, Waterbury Lands Initiative, 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 other community volunteers.
The many roads, residences and businesses in the corridor has fragmented the forest habitat and mounting development pressure poses a threat to wildlife’s ability to migrate. Ensuring a safe route through protected blocks of forest is vital to ensuring Vermont’s wildlife thrive for generations to come, according to Sharpless.
The amount of protected land in the corridor has tripled since 2018, thanks to the commitment of a few visionary landowners and supporters.
“We know that our property is just one small chunk of forestland,” said Chris Curtis, who with his wife Tari Swenson conserved 63 acres of centrally located land in the corridor a few years ago. “But we also know that only by being part of a group of likeminded landowners can a patchwork of animal-friendly forestland be assembled. It’s going to take a team effort to make the changes we need.”
According to Sharpless, the plan is for these 83 acres to be owned and cared for by Stowe Land Trust who will ensure the land is well-managed with sustainable forestry, wildlife and climate resilience in mind. Because of the focus on wildlife habitat protection, no trail development is planned, but the land will remain open to the public for dispersed recreation.
Sharpless said the land trust and other partners looked at the possibility of using a portion of the property for affordable or workforce housing development.
“In this case, it didn’t make sense, but we’re actively working to find good dual goal conservation housing and conservation projects on which to collaborate,” Sharpless said.
Stowe Land Trust has already applied for $256,000 in grant funding from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and has raised $352,600 from individuals and foundations to help purchase and conserve the property. But the land trust must secure the final $99,000 by the end of the year.