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Planning for Conservation


This page includes the following topics:


Status of Vermont's Conservation Planning

In 2000, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department evaluated all town plans in the state to determine if town plans and zoning addressed or considered fish and wildlife issues and interests. Results from this evaluation are detailed in a report entitled Fish and Wildlife Considerations in Local Planning: A Vermont Review (Contact Us for a free copy). The results indicate that 91% of town plans identified wildlife and/or fish habitat as an important public resource. Other important survey results:

  • 52% of plans included habitat maps.

  • 62% identified public benefits of wildlife habitat protection.

  • 84% recommended regulatory and nonregulatory strategies for habitat conservation

An important measure of effective wildlife conservation planning is the number of towns that support Conservation Commissions. At present, there are 88 towns in Vermont with official Conservation Commissions (See Resources.)


Vermont's Natural Heritage

Vermont's Natural Heritage, a 2002 report from the Vermont Biodiversity Project (VBP), provides background information that explains the science behind conservation and protection of Vermont's natural heritage elements. It also provides ideas for statewide conservation goals. Understanding the science of conservation and knowing about the statewide perspective can help towns and other organizations plan for the conservation of species, natural communities, and landscapes throughout the state.


Conservation: The Planning Process

Conservation planning is a process by which a group of people considers the current status of an area (for example, a town, a watershed, or a region) with respect to its development, growth, and natural environment, and identifies the most effective mechanisms for conserving its natural heritage - its ecosystems, fish, wildlife, plants, habitats, natural communities, and the public's interests therein. The process considers the public's interests in our natural heritage and obligations to future generations. Through conservation planning, the rural culture and character of Vermont can be maintained along with its natural heritage. This manual presents choices and ideas for incorporating fish, wildlife, and other natural heritage elements into land use and conservation planning, but it should be kept in mind that there may be other approaches that would also be suitable for this purpose.

Step One: Setting Vision and Goals

Start with forming a conservation vision and setting goals. This should involve all interested parties, which include all residents and regular visitors to the area. Begin by asking some questions: Why do you live or visit here? What is it you appreciate about this place? What do you want the town (or region) to look like in 20 years? In 50 years? In 100 years? Once participants have agreed on a vision, it is possible to begin drafting some clear conservation goals. What specific things will contribute to the vision? 

See Resources for programs and organizations that can help your town to recognize and voice its values and translate that into community planning.

Step Two: Gathering and Interpreting Information

This step involves compiling existing information on the natural resources of the local area of interest, as well as a larger geographical area. Find out where important resources are locally, but also assess how they fit into the larger regional context. Look especially at the entire biophysical region that includes your local area. Work with surrounding communities to coordinate the information gathering and assessment.

Visit our Inventory page for information on compiling necessary data and mapping.


Step 2A. Gather Existing Data

Gather all the existing natural resource information for your town or area of interest. There are two kinds of data: digital data, information that can be viewed on and analyzed by a computer, and manual data, information you find on paper maps, in reports, and on photographs. We recommend using both together if you have the technical expertise and equipment. (Resources contains information on how and where to obtain existing digital and manual data, as well as how to get help in interpreting it.) 

Geographic Information Systems (GIS), ArcView, and ArcGIS  

Throughout this website we refer to Geographic Information Systems (GIS), ArcView, ArcGIS, and other related computer tools that help in managing digital geographic data. Although planners have done excellent work without these tools for a long time, GIS is quickly becoming the standard for keeping track of large amounts of geographical data and helping to look at multiple pieces of information at once. In the last few years, these applications have begun to provide nontechnical users the means to directly access sophisticated spatial analysis and mapping tools.

A helpful publication that explains GIS basics (GIS: Helping Vermonters Visualize Choice) is available from Vermont Center for Geographic Information (VCGI).

Visit our Inventory page for specific GIS resources and know-how


 Digital data are found mainly in the form of data layers, which when viewed in GIS look like maps. Regional planning commissions (RPCs) are typically the developers and repositories of detailed GIS data for each town in their region because most towns in Vermont do not maintain full-time GIS or planning professionals. The commissions adhere to the GIS standards and guidelines for creating, maintaining, and documenting geographic data. RPCs can provide technical assistance as well as helping in obtaining the geographical data. The Vermont Center for Geographic Information (VCGI). also stores and distributes many statewide GIS data sets, including some uploaded for distribution by regional planning commissions. 

Manual data include paper maps, aerial photographs, site reports, historical information, and anecdotal information provided by local residents. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department offers a great deal of information on the landscape, natural community, and rare species elements of Vermont's natural heritage. A conservation group preparing to engage in planning should contact the Department for baseline information. It is also useful to include data from the program 'Keeping Track,' colleges and universities, federal agencies, regional planning commissions, local and regional conservation groups, and local experts. Residents who hunt, fish, trap, or regularly view and photograph wildlife are excellent sources of valuable information on animal movements and the location of important habitats.

See Inventory for a complete list of what's required for a Basic Natural Resource Inventory See Resources for information on how and where to obtain existing digital and manual data, as well as how to get help in interpreting it.

Store all available data in a central location that can be accessed by all participating planners. Your information should be in two complementary forms: maps and a database. The maps will show where things are in your landscape, while the database will provide more details on each of the elements that are mapped. 

Finally, prepare a set of maps and database reports for display and discussion by the planning group. 


 Step 2B. Gather New Field Data

To develop the most effective conservation plan possible, it is essential to gather new field data in addition to using existing information. For example, the deer wintering area (DWA) shown below was identified from aerial photographs in the 1960s and 1970s. New field data would help planners decide how to conserve this area. Is the area still functioning as a DWA? Is it mapped accurately? Are there current threats to it? These questions can be most effectively answered by a field inventory.

Deer Wintering Areas Deer Wintering Areas
GIS Map showing Deer Wintering Areas GIS Map showing Deer Wintering Areas and 2003 orthophoto

Some types of field data are easily gathered by volunteers with minimal professional guidance, but keep in mind that other information is best gathered by or under the close supervision of a natural resource professional, which may require an expenditure of money and time. Towns should start by giving a priority to each piece of new information they need and then begin the process of pulling it together.  See Inventory for more information on Advanced Natural Resource Inventories.


Step Three: Develop Conservation Strategies

With a vision and goals articulated and the data gathered, the planning team then develops a set of strategies for achieving their goals. As mentioned before, strategies for each natural heritage element are described in Elements.

Step Four: Implement Conservation Strategies

Finally, planners must find ways to make their strategies work in the real world. The Tools pages describe a number of techniques, from adopting town plans to participating in Act 250 reviews, that citizens and town officials can use to implement their conservation strategies.   


Download the Manual "Conserving Vermont's Natural Heritage" 

(A Guide to Community-Based Planning for the Conservation of Vermont's Fish, Wildlife, and Biological Diversity)

This manual is designed to offer technical guidance for identifying important wildlife and natural heritage resources in your communities or area of interest, and understanding information related to the conservation of those resources. It also provides ideas, options, and opportunities for communities and others to consider when planning for the long-term conservation of wildlife in Vermont. Much of the material in this site is found in the planning manual.


You can download this manual in sections

You can also download this manual as a single file (below) or Contact Us for a free printed copy. 



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