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The Champlain Valley

 

Many of the state's rare, threatened, or endangered plants occur in very restricted habitats throughout the state. However, most of Vermont's rare plant and animal species are associated with the Champlain Valley - the region of the state with the greatest concentration of human population and agricultural land use. Furthermore, some of these species are globally rare (e.g., Indiana bats and Ram's Head Lady Slipper (See photos above)).

Current rates of human population expansion and land use conversion place an even greater urgency for the conservation of at-risk species within this region of the state. The following facts demonstrate both the need and the urgency of greater conservation emphasis within this region:

  • While 19.2% of Vermont land is currently conserved either by federal, state, municipal, or private conservation groups, only 9% of the Champlain Valley is conserved.

  • The two counties that constitute most of the Champlain Valley (i.e., Chittenden and Addison Counties) comprise 14.1% 0f Vermont's land area, but support 30.0% of the state's human population.

  • The Champlain Valley of Vermont is the most fragmented biophysical region in the state - 53% forested.

For these reasons, the Landowner Incentive Program (LIP) will emphasize the conservation and management of the at-risk species associated with this region. All of the natural communities associated with the Champlain Valley that are tracked by the Fish and Wildlife Department's Wildlife Diversity Program have been prioritized for conservation. In addition, a total of 92 at-risk plant and animal species have been identified that require habitats within the Lake Champlain Valley. 

Foremost among the restricted habitats within this region are two of the rarest and most threatened natural communities in the state: the pine-oak-heath sandplain and the valley clayplain forest. At least 43 rare, threatened, or endangered plant at-risk species are specifically associated with the habitats provided by these two natural communities. Several animal species are also associated with these natural communities (e.g., federally endangered Indiana bats, wood turtles, Jefferson salamanders). 

The pine-oak-heath sandplain forest is restricted to the glacially deposited, deltaic sand deposits that occur in terraces leading away from Lake Champlain. Formerly occupying up to 15,000 acres, this imperiled natural community is presently restricted to around 700 acres, or less than five percent of its former extent. In addition, three of the four largest and most significant sites in the state are all or partially in private ownership as are the majority of the smaller sites. Because of their proximity to the Burlington area, all of these sites are imminently threatened by development. Any conservation or management actions in the sandplains would serve not only to protect one of the rarest natural communities in the state but would also conserve a suite of associated rare plants, many of which are restricted to this community type. 

The valley clayplain forest is restricted to the clay and fine silt soils of the Champlain Valley that were deposited when the valley was a large lake. This once dominant community type, occupying over 200,000 acres is now extremely rare due primarily to large scale conversion to agriculture. Presently most examples are under 100 acres, and the majority of these are on privately owned lands. Although large scale restoration is likely beyond the scope of this project, prevention of further loss to agriculture and silviculture as well as augmentation of existing clayplain patches is feasible. Management activities would also be undertaken to enhance existing examples as well as to improve the habitat for the suite of rare, threatened or endangered plant and animal species that occur here. 

The 43 + at-risk species associated with these two natural communities are ideally positioned to directly benefit from technical and financial assistance by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. Due in part to their threatened existence these two communities have recovery/management plans already in place. As a result, management activities have been underway on the largest remaining sandplain which is on federal land. With LIP funding, this already established management protocol can be expanded on to privately held sandplain parcels. Furthermore, both natural communities have benefited from extensive outreach including symposia, newspaper and journal articles, and television coverage. 

In addition, the conservation of these natural communities is part of a comprehensive conservation effort directed at the Lake Champlain Valley among several conservation organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, the Vermont Land Trust, and several local organizations. Therefore, implementation of the LIP Program will result in both long-term and shorter-term benefits to the at-risk plant and animal species. Conservation easements will ensure the greatest level and duration of conservation. Landowner Management Agreements and the numerous specific management activities will secure the habitats in the near term, as well as address essential habitat enhancement or restoration needs. Essential to the overall success of the Landowner Incentive Program is the landscape and natural community perspective that addresses species' needs at a holistic level. Lastly, an enhanced LIP Program in the Champlain Valley will create the public awareness necessary for effective development of a comprehensive Landowner Incentive Program in the state in the future.

For more information on the Ecology of the Champlain Valley, please see:

  • Valley Clayplain Forest (A Description of the Natural Community Type)  
  • Sandplain Forest (A Description of the Natural Community Type)  
  • Species-At-Risk in the Champlain Valley (This table provides the names, status, conservation goals, and eligible conservation/management activities for those at-risk plant and animal species, as well as the natural communities associated with the Lake Champlain Valley.)  

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