Act 171 & forest blocks: Derry hosts ANR with changes to town plans down the road

Monica Przyperhart talks about the purpose of Act 171. All photos by Bruce Frauman.

By Bruce Frauman
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Act 171, which the governor signed into law more than two years ago, will impact towns throughout Vermont as the state attempts to save Vermont’s wildlife, including large animals such as deer, bear and moose and smaller ones such as foxes and otter, by preserving “habitat connectors” that these animals use to migrate freely.

On Thursday, Oct. 18, Monica Przyperhart, a biologist with the Agency of Natural Resources, came to Londonderry to speak with its Conservation and Planning commissions, as well those planning commissioners from Weston and Windham, about the impact that the law will have on their work — especially the updating of their Town Plans — and their communities.

As they work Act 171 into their Town Plans, each town will be able to choose which “forest blocks” and connectors to include in their town plan based on state maps, local data and maintaining a balance between forest growth and resource protection. Przyperhart said this can be accomplished through landowner incentives, development design by clustering houses, roads and driveways, habitat connectors, and locating development at the edges of forest blocks.

Forest corridors from the ANR.

Przyperhart, of the Community Wildlife Program, said Act 171 is designed to “maintain and improve forest blocks and habitat connectors.” Since 1962, pattern of development has reduced connections between large blocks of forest. Przyperhart said the second largest forest block in Vermont is centered on Weston. Even a hedgerow along a line of trees can allow animals to migrate from one block to another.

Przyperhart said Act 171 requires town and regional plans to “identify the forest blocks and connectors you’d like to protect and then to plan for how to keep them unfragmented.” Since Londonderry approved approved the bulk of its Town Plan in 2017, before Act 171 went into effect, it will not have to implement the law until 2025. Weston adopted its Town Plan in October of 2016 and it expires in 2024 and Windham adopted its in January of 2015 and it will expire in 2020.

The ANR has a guidance document to help towns write these “vague” requirements, as Przyperhart put it, into their Town Plan.

“A bigger block of habitat has more species that a smaller block of habitat,” said Przyperhart, adding that  connectors between forest blocks range from a hedgerow to whole states. While there are many connectors of varying scales within Vermont, she said that Vermont itself is a regional connector. For instance. to get from the Adirondacks to Canada and from Canada down into the Berkshires, animals go through Vermont.

The Londonderry Conservation Commission listens to the Act 171 presentation.

The loss of some of these connectors within Vermont and the larger region could increase fragmentation and cause further stress to wildlife, she said.

The goal of Act 171 is to “minimize forest fragmentation and promote the health, viability and ecological function of forests.” Przyperhart said maps, which you can find here detail, a variety of connections between forest blocks.

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