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State Has Plan for Windsor Wildlife



Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, February 22, 2018

Windsor — State officials with the Vermont departments of Fish and Wildlife and Forest, Parks and Recreation laid out a road map at a public discussion on Wednesday night for developing a wildlife management plan for the new Windsor Grasslands Wildlife Management Area that formerly was part of the prison property off County Road.

Management of the 826 acres of fields, forests and wetlands was handed to Fish and Wildlife about a year ago, from Building and General Services, and since then fieldwork has been done and information gathered on the property’s attributes and features.

“It is a very diverse property,” said Chris Bernier, a wildlife biologist with Fish and Wildlife who led the presentation before about 15 residents.

Tim Morton, a stewardship forester with the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, said they have located and marked the property boundaries, completed a forest and habitat inventory and mapped some of the land’s recreational features. They hope fieldwork on songbird inventory will be done this spring.

The property is popular with bird watchers, and in fact, concerns over the potential loss of nesting habitat for some birds was a big reason a planned solar array on some of the fields was strongly opposed and eventually rejected about two years ago.

Particular concern was expressed by some residents about the fate of nesting habitat for the golden winged warbler.

“We acknowledge the unique presence of that species,” said John Austin, a land and habitat program manager. “Your interests are not falling on deaf ears.”

The fieldwork will be followed by the completion of an “assessment” that will review the quality of trees, soils, problem areas, composition of the parcel and more, Morton said.

Once all of that information has been compiled, it will be presented to the public at what is termed a “scoping meeting,” possibly next fall.

Bernier said goal of the scoping meeting is to inform the public what they have learned about the property and what some of their ideas for management are.

“This is what we have up there in terms of birds, forest, fields and here are some ideas we have,” Bernier said after the meeting. “We want to get feedback.”

Morton said the goal is to write the first draft management plan, which also will be presented to the public before any final management plan is adopted, next winter.

Since being given control, Fish and Wildlife has worked with a farmer on a 46-acre field, putting down lime and fertilizer to help with regrowth.

“We want to try to revitalize this field. If it does not have value, it limits our options of what we can do,” Bernier said.

There also has been work to remove invasive species such as poison parsnip, which causes a skin rash, and Japanese knotweed.

Residents had some questions about a few specific areas, but no one raised any objections to the state’s timeline for creating a management plan.

Resident John MacGovern, who lives on land bordering the wildlife management area, asked that all of the activities now allowed on the land, including hunting, birding and agriculture, be maintained.

At the beginning of the meeting, Bernier said Fish and Wildlife manages 93 wildlife management areas around the state, comprising 135,000 acres.

He said the goal of his department is to preserve, manage and conserve fish, wildlife, habitats and other natural and cultural resources on the lands, as well as guarantee public access, hunting, fishing, trapping and other wildlife-based activities.

The long-range management plan for the Windsor parcel, once adopted, will provide a framework for managing the property for 20 years before a new plan is developed, Bernier said.

The roughly 100 acres inside the fenced area where the prison buildings are located will continue to be managed by Buildings and General Services.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

Clarification

The new Windsor Grasslands Wildlife Management Area is comprised of 826 acres. A map accompanying an earlier version of this story gave an outdated number for the acreage.