There’s a misconception by some in Vermont that when a private conservation group protects land, it locks it up so the public can’t use it. But when it comes to lands protected by the Vermont chapter of The Nature Conservancy, the opposite is true.
The Nature Conservancy has helped conserve more than 185,000 acres in Vermont. Most of that land, whether owned by the state or federal government and under a Nature Conservancy easement, or owned outright by TNC, is open to the public for hiking, nature watching and, to the surprise of many, hunting.
At a time when hunting and conservation seem to be at odds in the minds of many Vermonters, and private land is rapidly being posted with “No trespassing” signs, it’s worth noting that the long-standing tradition of hunting plays an important role in helping The Nature Conservancy achieve its mission to “conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.”
TNC and Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists have identified numerous areas in Vermont where the deer population is well above the baseline that might be expected in a naturally balanced ecosystem. “If there are too many deer, they over-browse and harm habitat,” says Rose Paul, TNC director of critical lands and conservation science. “That creates a downward spiral for natural communities. Over-browsing eliminates tree seedlings, which can prevent forest regeneration. It can eradicate herbaceous plants, like trillium and other wildflowers which people enjoy, and can remove the shrub layer where forest birds nest.”
Without large predators such as wolves and mountain lions, hunting is one important component that can help provide balance and ecological health.
Hunting-generated dollars help support both public access and conservation of natural areas and waterways throughout the U.S. and right here in Vermont. Hunting continues to be one of the largest funding sources for general conservation of critical habitats that benefit game and nongame species alike. These dollars have helped TNC protect much state and federal land now open to hunting.
“The conservancy’s been one of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department’s best partners in land conservation,” says state wildlife biologist John Austin. “TNC’s efforts have provided a boon to deer, moose, waterfowl and upland bird hunters.”
The conservancy has partnered with the state to establish or expand 23 Vermont wildlife management areas, including the West Mountain Wildlife Management Area in the Northeast Kingdom — one of the largest in the state.
The Nature Conservancy helped protect thousands of acres of federal land now available to hunters in Green Mountain National Forest and Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. This land provides critical habitat in strategic areas to a variety of game and nongame animals, fish and birds.
In keeping with our commitment to respect the needs and values of the local communities in which we work, we recognize the role hunting plays in Vermont’s cultural identity. Hunting is an important component of self-sufficiency, the growth of the local food movement, and maintaining traditional uses of the land. Many Vermonters identify themselves both as hunters and conservationists, and we are pleased to count them among some of our most fervent supporters.
TNC owns and manages 55 natural areas in 60 Vermont towns that total nearly 40,000 acres. Other than having a valid hunting license, there are no fees to use these lands, and hunters tell us they enjoy the experience.
“I’ve hunted TNC’s North Pawlet Hills preserve for six years,” says Mark Riley Jr., of Poultney. “I highly recommend TNC lands to hunters, especially if they want a traditional hunt in Vermont, without ATV traffic, on a large piece of land where you can do some walking. It’s a way to experience hunting in Vermont the way it should be.”
“We have a long history of good relationships with hunters,” says Murray McHugh, Southern Vermont critical lands manager for TNC. “TNC uses a permit system for a handful of natural areas, though many natural areas don’t require permissions. There are a couple where hunting isn’t allowed due to deed restrictions.”
McHugh says that some of the best waterfowl hunting is in the wetlands of three Nature Conservancy natural areas on the Poultney River. “We give out 325 permits annually for our Helen W. Buckner and Lower Poultney River natural areas in Vermont and New York,” he says. “We also distribute state of New York doe management tags to hunters wishing to hunt on TNC’s Poultney River lands in New York.”
So if you want to track a deer or hunt small game, waterfowl or game birds, check out The Nature Conservancy in Vermont. With 55 natural areas scattered around the state, there’s bound to be one near you. And let your friends know: The Nature Conservancy is a dedicated conservation organization, with a nod to tradition.
Heather Furman is executive director of the Vermont chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
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