Last May Vermont’s Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law H.570, a bill that provides a new tool in the effort to prevent state-listed threatened and endangered species from disappearing from Vermont – the protection of critical habitat. Prior to this law, while the species themselves were protected, the places critical to their survival were not. Endangered bats often return to the same cave each autumn, and bald eagles frequently nest in the same tree year after year. Thanks to the new law, we have the ability to work with landowners and designate these critical habitats so they cannot be destroyed while the animals are elsewhere.
The bill represents only the first step in protecting habitat for these species and was designed to be limited in scope. While it does not protect large swaths of land for wide-ranging species like Canada lynx, it will protect those discrete, identifiable spots essential to the continued existence of these animals in Vermont. Hard work lies ahead to determine which threatened or endangered species need critical habitat protection, and then to enact those protections through the state rule-making process. But the bill’s passage provides impetus and optimism for the way forward.
For wildlife to be conserved, the habitat they need to survive must also be conserved. It’s just that simple. And now you can help in that effort through the Vermont Habitat Stamp.
Funds generated by the stamp help purchase lands for permanent conservation and provide funding to work with landowners to improve habitat for a wide range of species from golden-winged warblers to black bears. The stamp has already contributed to the expansion of the Lemon Fair Wildlife Management Area.
The actual ‘stamp’ is a bumper sticker that is sent in the mail to people who donate online at vtfishandwildlife.com. The suggested donation is $15, although some donors have chosen to contribute up to $1,000.
So what exactly is critical habitat? Critical habitat is the specific, limited area that a threatened or endangered species needs to survive.
For spiny softshell turtles, that could mean one of the few remaining small stretches of shale-covered beach that the turtles use for nesting. For a timber rattlesnake, it could mean the south-facing scree fields they use as den sites to hibernate in winter. Or for the northeastern bulrush, it could entail the few beaver wetland complexes in which they are still found in Vermont.
These small areas have a big impact on a threatened or endangered species’ capacity to thrive in Vermont. Recognizing their importance and placing protections on these areas is one step in ensuring these species will remain a fixture of the Vermont landscape.
Did you know that bald eagles often return to the same nest every year? Building a new nest may take months to complete, so if proven successful one year, eagles will continue to use the same nest year after year.
In the past, department staff have worked with landowners to protect trees with active bald eagle nests. Vermonters love wildlife, so landowners have generally been extremely cooperative. But now, thanks to H.570 we have a new tool to ensure that nest trees remain safe as long as eagles continue to use them.
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