VT Environmental Community Writes Governor, Asking Him Not To Cut State Employee Position

“The State has basically given towns the responsibility to plan for and protect the state’s wildlife resources, but they are taking away the program needed for them to do that responsibly.”

For Immediate Release –  

 Local Officials, Others, Call on Douglas
to Preserve Key State Wildlife Position 

(June 23, 2010) — A group of municipal, regional and statewide planning and conservation organizations sent a letter (attached) to Governor Douglas this week urging him to reconsider a decision to eliminate a position with the Department of Fish & Wildlife responsible for overseeing the Department’s Community Wildlife Program. 

The letter, sent by 34 organizations of various sizes from across Vermont, says that that program has been “instrumental in building community-level public awareness, appreciation, and action for Vermont’s wildlife resources in recent years, and we fear this important progress will be lost if this position is eliminated.” The letter also notes that the position is funded by a combination of federal funds and hunting and fishing license sales, and therefore has no effect on the general fund budget.

Dana Farley, President of the Vermont Planners Association, said the Community Wildlife Program “provides critical planning assistance to communities, and is one of the few technical assistance programs that has not been eliminated in recent years.”

“In Vermont, most land use and development decisions are made at the municipal level, often by volunteer boards and commissions with limited technical resources,” Farley explained.  “The state has basically given towns the responsibility to plan for and protect the state’s wildlife resources, but they are taking away the program needed for them to do that responsibly.”

Wildlife biologist Jens Hilke currently staffs the position.  The bulk of his work involves assisting municipal planning and conservation commissions to understand and integrate wildlife biology into local planning. 

The Town of Charlotte recently took advantage of assistance from the program to produce a significant wildlife habitat map and associated database.  The map ranks which parts of town are most ecologically important, scoring lands based on how many of eight ecological principles a particular region represents.  As part of that effort, Hilke gave presentations to the town to explain underlying scientific concepts and participated in the development of the mapping process.

Robert Hyams, Chair of the Charlotte Conservation Commission, said the Hilke was “invaluable in bridging the gap between science-driven policy and implementation by municipalities. Jens has the skills to not only explain the science, but to understand and help articulate the sometimes-disparate motivations and concerns of stakeholders.  I have personally witnessed his ability to achieve consensus between parties who otherwise may not even enter the same room, much less sit down at the same table.”

Caitrin Noel, Co-Chair of the Warren Conservation Commission, agreed with Hyams.  “The Community Wildlife Program has helped build greater understanding and appreciation for wildlife and wildlife habitat in our community” she explained, “and is a key resource in an ongoing effort between all of the towns in the Mad River Valley to address habitat conservation on a regional basis. “

“Wildlife and wildlife habitat don’t recognize town boundaries, and the Department of Fish & Wildlife plays an important role in bringing multiple towns together to coordinate planning and conservation activities,” Noel stated.

The loss of this regional perspective is not only of concern to local planners and conservationists, but to state environmental advocates as well.

"As Vermonters we cherish our outdoor heritage,” said George Gay of the National Wildlife Foundation’s regional office in Montpelier. He said the program “has engaged us like never before – town by town and neighbor by neighbor – in the growing movement to protect and enhance our fish and wildlife and their habitats. Continuation of this position is a responsible commitment to future generations."