Date of Award

2022

Advisor(s)

James Murdoch, PhD

Walter Poleman, PhD

Allan Strong, PhD

Document Type

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

While Vermont (USA) is often heralded as a success story for restoring much of its forests from unsustainable land use practices, the state is now seeing a decline in forestland. Several wildlife species are once again declining as a result of land use change and its associated impacts. A variety of federal, state, and local regulatory and nonregulatory policies benefit wildlife conservation and seek to conserve the unique natural landscape in Vermont. The current suite of wildlife protections in the state was born from a piecemeal approach, and while effective at several levels, is less integrated, which has led to management and conservation gaps. There has not been a comprehensive survey of Vermont’s wildlife policies across levels, which could inform current policy directions for wildlife and natural resource authorities and lead to more effective management planning. I identified six state-level environmental policies deemed to be the most consequential for terrestrial wildlife conservation in Vermont: Act 250, Section 248, the Vermont Endangered Species Law, the Vermont Wetlands Rules, Act 171, and Current Use (Use Value Appraisal). A review of relevant caselaw, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department (VFWD) legislative reports, VFWD-issued guidance documents, and peer-reviewed scientific literature informed the development of the Vermont Wildlife Policy Gap Survey. Utilizing established methodologies, the Vermont Wildlife Policy Gap Survey was designed to identify gaps in Vermont’s current regulatory structure for the conservation of wildlife by eliciting feedback from a selected pool of conservation professionals in Vermont. The survey was distributed to 64 conservation professionals in Vermont and 20-25 respondents (31.3-39.1%) completed the entire survey or a portion of the survey. Survey respondents reached several meaningful conclusions. Respondents were clear in stating that Act 250 is inadequate in preventing forest fragmentation. There was considerable overlap between Act 250 and Section 248, and respondents agree that VFWD lacks the requisite capacity to fully engage in their regulatory review role in each policy. The survey affirmed the Vermont Endangered Species Law’s implementation as primarily a fine-scale conservation tool; however, the respondents described the law as weak in achieving several habitat-related conservation objectives. Despite the importance of forested wetlands, respondents described the Vermont Wetlands Rules as weak in minimizing forest fragmentation. Finally, although described as an effective planning tool, Act 171 was the least well understood policy in the survey. The gaps identified provide a foundation for developing new policies and laws for achieving more comprehensive wildlife conservation in the state.

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