April 2, 2020

Effort to Protect Windham Region Woodlands Advances

WINDHAM COUNTY, Vt.—Today, The Conservation Fund and the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation announce a significant conservation milestone in a multi-year, multi-partner effort to protect privately-owned forestlands — comprising the Windham Region Working Forest Initiative in southwestern Vermont — from being converted to non-forestland uses.

The State of Vermont’s Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation has acquired conservation easements on 1,375 acres of woodlands in three separate parcels in the towns of Townshend, Stratton and Jamaica. These easements will support Vermont’s robust timber industry and forest economy, will protect important Connecticut River watersheds, critical black bear feeding habitat and other wildlife habitats, and provide opportunities for public recreation. Conserving these important forest tracts help to build flood resiliency in the Windham region and guarantees public access for activities such as hiking, fishing, hunting and cross-country skiing.

“Piece by piece, these parcels help to knit together a connected forest landscape that builds on the existing network of conserved lands in the region,” said Forests, Parks & Recreation Commissioner, Michael Snyder. “These easement parcels add important productive forestlands to the roster of protected land. These lands will remain actively managed in private ownership while at the same time ensuring the many benefits that forests provide.”

This accomplishment was made possible with a grant from the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, which is funded by the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The grant funds, along with a generous landowner donation and a small amount of Department of Fish and Wildlife funding for bear habitat protection, have secured three conservation easements that restrict development and require sustainable forest management on these private properties, which are now protected forever with public access rights secured for dispersed recreation. Partnering with the Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, The Conservation Fund played a facilitating role to secure the easements, collaborating with the partners and private landowners, and securing the private and federal funding.

Lars Peterson, landowner of one of the parcels protected said: “The Peterson family has owned land here for 85 years. This unspoiled woodland, with its abundant water and rich flora and fauna, has nourished not only our family, but also the community. With the LWCF-Forest Legacy funding, we’ve been able to conserve it for future generations and ensure it will remain available for hiking and hunting, and, as the woods have been timbered for over 75 years, helping to support local woodsmen and mills.”

The Conservation Fund is continuing to fundraise to complete a fourth, 183-acre conservation easement within the Windham region. The Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation has committed to acquire this easement if the Fund is able to fill the current funding gap. This effort continues to propel the Windham Region Working Forest Initiative to protect productive working forestland in the region for local communities, businesses and wildlife.

“Completing the Forest Legacy grant project was an amazing accomplishment, but there’s still much to be done to protect forestland across the Windham region and Vermont,” said The Conservation Fund’s Director of Conservation Bethany Olmstead. “We’re excited to continue working with the State and the community to keep private forests within the Windham region protected and working. Thank you to our many partners in this effort thus far, including the State, USDA Forest Service, and Vermont’s U.S. congressional delegation including Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders, and Representative Welch.”

The U.S. Congress permanently reauthorized LWCF last year and legislation has been introduced to fully and permanently fund LWCF. If successful, this will provide guaranteed annual funding to the Forest Legacy program and the eight other land protection programs funded by LWCF. LWCF uses offshore drilling revenue—not taxpayer dollars—to fund important conservation initiatives across the country and is annually funded by the U.S. Congress.

U.S. Senator Leahy, who was instrumental in creating the Forest Legacy Program as part of the 1990 Farm Bill, said: “I thank Lars Peterson and the other owners who have—in keeping with Vermont’s proud tradition of stewardship—conserved their land to the benefit of Vermont forests, wildlife, and communities. The Conservation Fund and State of Vermont once again have worked together to complete a project that is exactly what was envisioned for this program, now on its 30th anniversary.”

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders said: “Vermont has a proud tradition of conservation and working land, and the Windham Regional Working Forest project upholds the values of both. I am pleased that federal funding helped make this project possible. I understand how important the Land and Water Conservation Fund is in Vermont, and that is why I will continue to fight for its permanent funding.”

“Conserving this beautiful forest for future generations to enjoy is a huge accomplishment,” said U.S. Representative Peter Welch. “Congratulations to the Department of Forest, Parks & Recreation and The Conservation Fund on this important achievement. This project will benefit the residents of Windham County, and its economy and environment. Conservation practices are critical to our way of life in Vermont, which is why I continue to fight in the House for full funding of the Forest Legacy Program and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.”

Protecting the Windham Region Working Forest represents an opportunity to link to the Green Mountain National Forest, Green Mountain Wildlife Corridor, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Townshend Dams and Recreation Areas, all of which provide scenic views of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

“The Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program identifies and conserves environmentally important forest areas that are threatened by conversion to non-forest uses. We are proud to be a partner of the Windham Region Working Forest project and celebrate this significant milestone of 1,375 acres now included in the Forest Legacy Program,” said Robert Lueckel, Acting Regional Forester, USDA Forest Service.

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. We pioneered a financially sustainable model — the Working Forest Fund® — to ensure at-risk forests are never broken apart or degraded. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than eight million acres of land, including nearly 231,300 acres of forest and recreation lands in Vermont.

About the Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation
The Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation is one of three departments in the Agency of Natural Resources. It is responsible for the conservation and management of Vermont’s forests, the operation and maintenance of the Vermont State Park system, and the promotion and support of outdoor recreation for Vermonters and our visitors. The Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation has participated in the Forest Legacy Program since the program’s inception in 1990 and has conserved more than 90,000 acres of forestland through this program. For information about Vermont State Parks, trails, forest health, timber harvesting and managing forests in Vermont, visit www.fpr.vermont.gov

The Conservation Fund, Val Keefer, 703-908-5802, vkeefer@conservationfund.org
Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, Kate Sudhoff, 802-505-0678, kate.sudhoff@vermont.gov