Over 500 Acres of Bear Habitat Protected (VT)

LUDLOW, Vermont, 1/13/03: Today, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources announced the acquisition and permanent protection of 515 acres on Branch Brook in the town of Ludlow. The land, which has been a top priority for conservation due to its importance as black bear habitat, lies adjacent to both the Okemo State Forest and Tiny Pond Wildlife Management Area. The property was purchased for $506,760 from Yankee Forest, LLC, thanks to a federal grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and mitigation funds provided by Okemo Mountain Resort. Two national nonprofit organizations, the Conservation Fund and the Trust for Public Land, assisted with the acquisition.

“This is a great achievement and one of the final pieces needed to protect important bear habitat,” said Governor Howard Dean. “I greatly appreciate everyone’s hard work to get this complex deal done.”

“In addition to conserving bear habitat, acquisition of the Yankee land also provides permanent protection of several hundred feet of Branch Brook and Buttermilk Falls and additional shoreline on remote 29-acre Tiny Pond,” explained Jay Maciejowski, forestry district manager for the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. “These are very significant natural resources for this region.”

“This acquisition is a critical milestone in the nearly 15-year effort on the part of many private and public organizations to conserve the lands between the two units of the Green Mountain National Forest for black bear and other wide ranging wildlife species. I am proud to live in a state where concern for wildlife can promote the cooperation necessary for this kind of achievement,” said Kim Royar, wildlife biologist for the Agency of Natural Resources.

“It is exciting to be fulfilling The Fund’s ongoing commitment to completing a 20-mile long wildlife corridor along the Green Mountain spine,” shared Nancy Bell, Vermont director for the Conservation Fund, which spearheaded the conservation of 133,000 acres in the Northeast Kingdom. “It is vital to keep intact the natural systems that sustain wildlife, working forest, recreation and our spirit!”

“This critical link between Okemo State Forest and Tiny Pond has now been preserved for all Vermonters for all time,” said David Houghton, field office director for the Trust for Public Land, which has helped add nearly 20,000 acres to the Green Mountain National Forest since 1993. “We are delighted to have been part of the partnership that conserved another piece of this important corridor.”

“Throughout our history of resort development and operations, we have maintained a sense of balance, commitment and appreciation for environmental stewardship,” commented Tim Mueller, owner of Okemo Mountain Resort. “We will continue to protect the wildlife habitat and to preserve the quality of the mountain and the surrounding area.” Just over $339,700 for the purchase was provided through mitigation funds paid by the Resort as a result of an Act 250 permit.

“Once again, hunters have played a vital role in protecting critical wildlife habitat in Vermont. The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program, which is funded through an excise tax on hunting and shooting equipment paid by sportsmen, provided $167,000 toward the acquisition price,” said Bob Sousa, assistant regional director for migratory birds and state programs for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region.

“We are delighted to help add this keystone property to the bear corridor. While we view timber production and wildlife habitat management as thoroughly compatible, the unique character and location of this piece, coupled with local development pressures, convinced us of the wisdom of this sale,” said Tom Colgan, president and CEO of Wagner Forest Management, which managed the property for Yankee Forest, LLC. “We appreciate the vision and efforts of all involved.”

The Branch Brook property is located along Route 103 in Ludlow. It is an important component of a roughly 20,000-acre corridor of state and private conservation land that has been assembled in an effort to connect the northern and southern units of the 350,000-acre Green Mountain National Forest. It is located in a very narrow section of the corridor and its protection is critical to maintaining access for wildlife back and forth across Route 103. The entire corridor, which stretches from Route 155 north to Route 4, is one of the state’s most important habitat areas for black bear and other wide-ranging wildlife species, such as bobcat and fisher. With the Branch Brook property protected, there are only a handful of unprotected parcels that need to be acquired to complete the entire connection.

The Branch Brook land was owned and managed for many years by the International Paper Company and was last logged in the 1980s. It is completely forested with northern hardwoods, mixed with occasional hemlocks. A portion of the property, approximately 273 acres, was added to the Okemo State Forest, which is now 7,600 acres. The remainder, roughly 242 acres, was added to the Tiny Pond Wildlife Management Area, increasing its size to a total of 739 acres.

The Conservation Fund, the top ranked environmental nonprofit by the American Institute of Philanthropy, acts to protect the nation’s legacy of land and water resources in partnership with other organizations, public agencies, foundations, corporations, and individuals. The Fund completed the largest, multi-state conservation initiative in the nation, protecting 300,000 acres of Champion International Paper Company lands in Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. Seeking innovative conservation solutions for the 21st century, The Fund works to integrate economic and environmental goals. For more information, visit www.conservationfund.org.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving land for people to enjoy as parks and open space. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 1.4 million acres nationwide, including adding nearly 20,000 acres to Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest. The Wall Street Journal’s Smart Money magazine recently named TPL the nation’s most efficient large conservation charity for the third year in a row, based on the percentage of funds dedicated to programs.