Caitrin Maloney, executive director of the Stowe Land Trust, wrote this great opinion piece published in the Stowe Reporter on the importance of conservation and the work of the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board. While there are many mentions that are specific to Stowe, these types of conservation efforts are highly valuable statewide. Support and funding of both housing AND conservation are crucial to the future of the state of Vermont:
On Thursday, Feb. 12, I joined folks from all corners of the state for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Coalition’s “Day at the Legislature.” This event celebrated and highlighted the successes conservation and housing groups have made in the past year, and over the past three decades since conservation efforts began in force in the late 1980s.
To open the day, we heard from Gov. Shumlin, who spoke of the unexpected “agricultural renaissance” that is underway in Vermont, citing that for the first time in many decades the number of farms in Vermont is increasing. This reverses a longstanding decline that many folks considered inevitable.
The governor recognized how important this has been to Vermont’s economy: in bringing young entrepreneurs to the state, creating jobs, and resulting in a great diversity of value-added products earning world renown. We have, at the same time, protected elements of the scenic working landscape that are critical to our quality of life and our tourism economy.
The governor was clear as he assigned credit — this simply would not have been possible without conservation, the work of land trusts, support from local communities, and funding allocated through the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.
It was wonderful to hear our governor’s solid support for conservation and housing efforts in Vermont, and his call to provide continued funding for these efforts — stating that he didn’t want to “cut the umbilical cord of our future.” But we also heard throughout the day about the enormous state deficit we are facing, and how there are folks in Montpelier who see conservation funding as a “luxury item” to be quickly written off in tough budget times.
Why fund conservation when there are so many other areas of need? I have a very simple answer: The land is everything, and when the land is lost, all is lost. Skimping on conservation is a failure to invest in our children’s future, and a promise to leave them with something less, something diminished.
The land is what our communities are built upon. It sustains our ecology, our farms, our working forests, our recreation, our tourism, and ultimately our economy. Development and growth are also important parts of our communities and economy, but unchecked development with no balancing force can destroy the sustaining aspects of the land.
Stowe is particularly vulnerable — it’s a desirable place to live, and land values are high. In Stowe, farmland used to “grow houses” instead of corn or hay and could offer a much bigger monetary gain. Forests are vulnerable to incremental development, resulting in fragmented, Swiss-cheese forests that no longer offer quality habitat for our wildlife. “No Trespassing” signs inevitably pop up in this fragmented landscape, and the places where people recreate and find solitude are also lost.
This is where conservation comes in — with support from the community and state and federal funding, conservation can offer an alternative future.
It’s sometimes easy to take conservation successes for granted, and it can be hard to picture what Stowe’s landscape would look like today without land protection. Today’s Stowe features open farmland, expanses of unbroken forest, and many places open to the public for hiking, skiing, mountain biking and bird-watching. In total, Stowe Land Trust has protected more than 3,500 acres of land, with many more acres protected by the Vermont state government and other groups. It’s clear Stowe would be a very different place without conservation.
We have had great success with conservation in Stowe; however, our work in not done. While more than 650 acres of agricultural land is protected, less than 10 percent of the prime agricultural soil in Stowe has been protected, and estimates show more than 2,000 acres of working farmland are still vulnerable to development. Nearly 50 percent of the Worcester Range forest block remains unprotected. This important expanse of unbroken forest habitat provides the scenic backdrop above Stowe Hollow and features a regionally important wildlife corridor.
In 1987, the Legislature passed the Vermont Housing and Conservation Trust Fund Act, which created a fund dedicated to conservation and housing efforts, and a group to administer the fund. Appropriately, the dedicated source of these funds is property transfer tax revenues. Since its inception, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board has awarded nearly $260 million in funds, directly leveraging about $860 million from other private and public sources. This investment resulted in the creation of more than 10,500 affordable homes, conservation of 390,740 acres of land, and restoration of 56 historic community buildings for public use.
In Stowe, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board has contributed more than $2 million to 10 projects on more than 1,200 acres of land. That funding provided critical leverage to local support from the Stowe town government and private donors. It’s safe to say that the protection of Cady Hill Forest and Adams Camp — which offer huge recreational opportunism, tourism benefits, wildlife habitat and working forestland — would not have been possible without funding from the board.
At this critical juncture, let’s not falter. Though there is much success to celebrate, there is much yet to be done. Let’s continue to rally behind conservation, and back it up with the essential statewide funding necessary to get the job done.
For a link to the originally published piece in the Stowe Reporter, click here.