West Mountain Wildlife Management Draft Plan Update
The Nature Conservancy Endorses Plan Draft Update
April 21, 2014
For more than a year, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has worked closely with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), and others on the recently released draft update of the long-range management plan for the West Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA). At nearly 23,000 acres, West Mountain WMA is the largest WMA in the state, and is a key component of the overall 132,000-acre “Kingdom Heritage Lands” in Essex County that were formerly owned by Champion International, Inc. As core partners in the acquisition and protection of these lands for a range of public purposes, TNC and VHCB co-hold a conservation and public access easement on the WMA and collaborate with ANR to ensure management of the WMA is consistent with the easement.
TNC endorses the draft plan update for the following reasons:
· It upholds the vision and intent behind the establishment of the WMA and the broader effort to permanently conserve and secure public access on the Kingdom Heritage Lands.
· It sustains the essence of the broad management direction and detailed provisions from the original management plan from 2002, and will continue that plan’s carefully crafted, well-balanced approach to management that is consistent with the easement and other guiding documents.
· It leaves intact the boundary, size, and management of the ecological “Core Area”, which is one of the foundational elements of the vision for the WMA and the Kingdom Heritage Lands overall.
· It lays out a specific path and commitment for making substantial progress on the road closures needed to fulfill the vision and intent of the Core Area within the update’s 10-year lifespan – a strong positive contrast to the very limited headway ANR made on this over the past 12 years.
· Together with the parallel draft update to the public access plan for the neighboring 84,000-acre Private Timberlands portion of the Kingdom Heritage Lands, it identifies specific actions to improve opportunities for vehicular access and traditional recreational uses on other parts of the WMA and the Private Timberlands.
· It includes important updated resource data that will help to inform many aspects of management going forward.
· It provides direction on important topics that were not addressed in the original plan (e.g., climate change, habitat considerations for key species such as lynx and American marten, systematic attention to the need to improve bridges and culverts to accommodate flood flows and the movement of fish and other aquatic species).
· It reflects thoughtful, open-minded consideration by ANR, TNC and VHCB of the diversity of perspectives and closely held values among the broad spectrum of people who enjoy and care about this very special place.
The issue of road closures in the Core Area has been a focal point of attention in the update process – and indeed for much of the past 15 years. TNC acknowledges that the proposed approach to road closures in the draft plan update represents something of a compromise from an ecological perspective in the near-term, relative to what was laid out in the original plan. That said, we feel strongly that this compromise is well-justified and appropriate because the proposed approach will result in the first really meaningful progress on this matter in the near-term, while also providing reasonable opportunities for public vehicular access and traditional uses.
We are hopeful that this balanced approach will help to create a new dynamic around the management of West Mountain WMA and new opportunities for dialogue, understanding, and collaboration where conflict and tension have existed in the past. We are heartened by recent indications that this is indeed -happening.
We also hope these changes will create a new opportunity to celebrate the truly remarkable legacy that the conservation of West Mountain WMA and all of the Kingdom Heritage Lands represent for all Vermonters, and what an incredible gift they are to present and future generations.
ANR is accepting written comments on the draft management plan update for West Mountain WMA until June 11th and oral comments at three public meetings in late April-early May (all from 7:00-9:00 p.m.):
· April 29 at Brighton Elementary School
· April 30 at Montpelier High School
· May 5 at Lyndon State College, ASAC building
TNC encourages interested individuals and organizations to participate in this process and provide comments to ANR in support of the draft management plan. It is important for the Agency to hear from people who value West Mountain WMA’s natural resources, ecological attributes and recreational opportunities.
More information – including the full draft plan update, a summary version, and how to submit written comments – is available online at: http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/wildlife_WestMtnWMAReview.cfm or by contacting the State’s lead planner for this process, Doug Morin, at 802-751-0621802-751-0621, Doug.Morin@state.vt.us.
If you have questions regarding TNC’s position on the draft plan update, please contact Phil Huffman at (802) 229-4425(802) 229-4425 x109, email@example.com, or Heather Furman at (802) 229-4425(802) 229-4425 x 114, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at www.nature.org. To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit www.nature.org/global. To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.