The Agency completed a “Lands Conservation Plan” to guide future Agency land acquisition and other land conservation transactions. The plan was formally approved by Agency Secretary John Kassel on October 26th, 1999.
The planning process was initiated in the fall of 1996 with the creation of a 17-member Lands Conservation Plan Steering Committee. The Committee, composed of representatives from both within and outside the Agency, met a total of 20 times over the course of the three year planning period to develop the plan.
The final plan is composed of two separate volumes. Volume I (Lands Conservation Plan – A Land Acquisition Strategy for the Agency of Natural Resources) is a policy document and describes Agency land acquisition priorities, establishes criteria and a process for evaluating potential land acquisition projects, and suggests numerous policies, recommendations, and related actions pertaining to the Agency's land conservation activities. Volume II serves as a Technical Appendix to the Lands Conservation Plan and is a compilation of related public involvement activities and work group reports.
Read the whole plan here:
Lands Conservation Plan: A Land Acquisition Strategy for the Agency of Natural Resources
Vermont's state parks, state forests, wildlife management areas, and other public lands provide Vermonters with myriad opportunities for recreating, enjoying nature, and simply getting away to somewhere peaceful. Just as importantly, these lands sustain important wildlife habitat, offering, for instance, protection for nesting areas, wildlife corridors, and homes for threatened and endangered species.
Privately owned property dominates the Vermont landscape, currently accounting for more than 85 percent of the state's acreage. Private property owners will continue to play a leading role in conserving Vermont's natural resources. Hundreds of thousands of anglers, hunters, cyclists, hikers, boaters, and others visit our state each year to view our landscape and enjoy the bounty of our natural resources. This is strong testament to the high quality of land stewardship provided by Vermont landowners.
State-owned properties, however, are an important part of the Vermont landscape, as they exist in perpetuity for the enjoyment of Vermonters and visitors. Found in all 14 counties, they often provide a region with its most important beach on a hot summer day or its best hillside when setting out on a crisp November morning in deer season.
As we enter the 21st Century, the State of Vermont will continue to acquire land, both to provide additions to existing state-owned parcels and to establish entirely new management units as additional state parks, wildlife management areas, and other categories of state land. Additionally, the state is increasingly looking for innovative partnerships in its land acquisition efforts, such as sharing ownership – often through easements – with land trusts and timber companies.
Societal changes are many as we begin the new millennium. Breakthroughs in communications will allow more Americans to live in rural states while actively participating in the global economy. New technologies, many unimaginable today, may fuel new pressures on our natural resources. Mounting frustration with life in urban and suburban communities may well push more Americans to seek out new homes in rural states such as Vermont.
At the same time, some aspects of our lives will not change. For many people, there will always be a need to seek out quiet places, such as mountaintops, hiking trails, and clean lakes for swimming and canoeing. Vermont's parks and forests have provided such places for decades. With good planning and good management, they will continue to do so well into the future.
This document is intended to guide the Agency of Natural Resources in its land conservation activities (principally land acquisition) over the next decade. In so doing, it sets forth various policy recommendations and describes the Agency's land acquisition priorities. These policies and priorities are based upon the expertise of Agency staff; the knowledge of stakeholders familiar with our state's private and public property mix and the economic changes taking place in Vermont; and the conservation interests of hundreds of Vermonters who shared their thoughts with the Lands Conservation Plan Steering Committee as it drafted this plan during the past three years.
Two priorities in this plan are of special note, as they represent important shifts in the direction of the Agency's land conservation activities:
In the past, the Agency's attempts to conserve ecological resources have largely focused on the protection of individual species rather than on maintaining or enhancing Vermont's biological diversity. The Agency now believes that the protection of viable, high-quality examples of native species and natural communities can best be accomplished through the use of a limited natural reserve system. This is a system of protected areas that contain a core where ecological integrity is the highest, surrounded by areas of low-intensity land use that maintain a reasonable level of biological integrity. The scale and design of an appropriate reserve system for Vermont - one that is both biologically and sociologically acceptable - has not yet been determined. This would depend, in part, upon a more complete understanding of what ecological resources are presently conserved across the Vermont landscape. Regardless, the expectation is that Vermont's existing network of conserved public and private lands can provide many of the largest core areas needed for a reserve system.
The Agency will no longer acquire, in fee, tracts of forest land solely or primarily for the purpose of timber production. Further, the Agency will not acquire productive working forest land in fee unless absolutely necessary to protect important recreational and/or ecological values. This represents a major shift from the historical direction the state has taken in its land conservation efforts. The majority of Vermont's woodlands are in private ownership. The Agency recognizes that well-maintained, privately owned forests will continue to provide most of the state's timber resources through the stewardship of individual landowners. The Agency believes that acquiring conservation easements on certain working forest tracts, however, can protect the parcel from development, ensure public access, and provide for sustainable forest management into the future.
As set forth within this plan, the Agency of Natural Resources has established the following land acquisition priorities:
I. Recreation Values and Priorities
A. Water Recreation
1. Parcels providing access to public waters – especially (but not limited to) Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River
2. Parcels providing access to public waters for non-motorized boating
3. Parcels protecting and preserving access to important public swimming areas (beaches and swimming holes)
4. Parcels which provide protection of undeveloped/remote ponds, rivers, and undeveloped shoreline (including Lake Champlain islands and other islands)
5. Parcels which provide opportunities for primitive canoe-camping
B. Trails and Greenways
1. Parcels that help to protect established or planned long-distance trail systems, including trailhead areas and side trails (e.g., Long Trail, Catamount Trail, Cross Vermont Trail, rail-to-trails, etc.)
2. Protection of prominent mountaintops and ridgelines that have existing trails or are otherwise suitable and desirable for trails and other compatible uses
3. Parcels that provide linkages between blocks of existing public land, creating additional trail opportunities
4. Parcels that facilitate the development of loop trails
5. Parcels that facilitate the development of planned water recreation trail systems (e.g., Lake Champlain Paddler's Trail, etc.)
C. Needed Additions to Existing State Parks
1. Parcels that provide needed buffer to existing state parks
2. Inholdings and additions that “fill-out” existing parks so they can be managed as integrated units
3. Adjacent parcels needed for planned facility expansion or to enhance access
D. Unique Geologic Areas (e.g., gorges, cliffs, and waterfalls)
II. Ecological Values and Priorities
A. Unique Natural Lands
1. Exemplary or significant natural communities
2. Habitats for rare, threatened, and endangered species
B. Critical Wildlife Habitat and Corridors
C. Connections and Corridors between Blocks of Public Lands
III. Forest Resource Values and Priorities
A. Conservation Easements on Working Forests
IV. Additions to Agency Lands
1. Lands (or interests in lands) necessary for maintaining or enhancing the integrity of existing state holdings
2. Lands such as inholdings and other parcels that serve to consolidate or connect existing state holdings and contain important public values and/or facilitate more efficient Agency land management
3. Parcels that enhance or facilitate public access to Agency lands
4. Parcels that serve an identified facility, infrastructure, or program need (for example, expansion of a campground facility)
The Lands Conservation Plan contains these policy recommendations:
- The Agency will maximize the use of geographic information systems in gathering, developing, and maintaining important resource inventories.
- The Agency will identify critical, short-term land management and administrative needs and associated costs for lands proposed for Agency ownership and will develop a strategy for meeting these needs prior to acquiring new properties.
- The Agency will identify long-term land management and administrative needs for ANR lands as a part of its long-range management planning process for ANR lands.
- The Agency will strive to be a good neighbor to communities in which it owns land and will involve communities on a regular basis to discuss land conservation issues.
- The Agency will make a concerted effort to expand its relationship with the regional planning commissions and will seek their advice, input, and expertise on land conservation issues and initiatives of mutual concern.
- The Agency will develop and include within its overall conservation and education program a "land conservation component" that addresses the public education needs outlined within the Lands Conservation Plan.
- The Agency will carefully consider the economic impacts of proposed land conservation activities and will tailor projects to minimize economic burdens and maximize economic benefits in a manner that is compatible with conservation goals.
- The Agency will continue to utilize the Land Acquisition Review Committee (LARC) in evaluating land offers that come before the Agency and in implementing its land conservation program.
- The Agency, as a general policy, will pay no more for a property than its appraised fair market value.
- The Agency will ensure that appraisals that are conducted on behalf of the Agency conform to the highest applicable standards.
- The Agency will work to identify state-owned lands that could be considered surplus to its mission and potentially available for exchange or disposition.
- The Agency will utilize land exchanges in a judicious manner to enhance conservation values and to provide important public benefits.
- As a general matter of policy, the exchange of surplus Agency lands for lands with greater conservation and/or recreation value is preferable over the outright sale of Agency lands.
- The Agency will only consider accepting land donations that serve an identified Agency purpose, meet or exceed the minimum standards for state ownership, and do not impose significant management or liability concerns.
- The Agency will work through LARC and its conservation partners to evaluate the Lands Conservation Plan and monitor associated implementation activities on a regular basis.
The Agency emphasizes in the plan's fundamental assumptions that all conservation projects must have a willing seller. The Agency does not have the authority to conserve property by eminent domain for conservation or recreation purposes.
Readers should also be aware that this plan will serve as the guiding document for acquisitions and other conservation projects only for the Agency of Natural Resources. While the Agency often works in partnership with land trusts, non-profit organizations, and private timber companies, this plan is not a guidance document for the Green Mountain National Forest, land trusts, or other conservation organizations.