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Wildlife Watch: Program pays landowners to clear property for improved habitat

Published: Jan. 5, 2021 at 3:04 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, Vt. (WCAX) - The state of Vermont is looking to work with private landowners to help improve wildlife habitat.

Meg Berlin has owned over 60-acres of land in Charlotte for over 20 years. She has a passion for wildlife and wants to make her land more accessible for birds and other critters. “I was on the conservation commission here in Charlotte for a while,” Berlin said.

Last week, crews were clearing her land for habitat work. “We are transforming the habitat from a brushy, tall overgrowth into a function shrub habitat. In the process, we are also combating invasive species,” said Dave Adams, a biologist with Vermont Fish & Wildlife.

By using heavy machinery, they will be removing invasive species and promoting new native plant growth. “It is literally just grinding all of this material down into shredded chips to increase the biomass on the ground, helps break down the material quickly but helps clear an area that can be managed -- potentially for a brush hog or for trails, or left to just grow,” Adams said.

He says most of the work is being done for the golden-winged warbler that breeds in Vermont. That means leaving parts of the land untouched. “These birds fly out of Central America, come up here in the spring to do their breeding and they require very specific habitat -- low-growth nesting habitat, feeding habitat at mid-height, and tall perch sites for their singing. And they all need that one specific area. The Champlain Valley is very unique and it provides a lot of that habitat, however, it’s becoming too overgrown.”

But it’s not just about the warbler. The work will help with other wildlife, and the department is looking for other lands that can be cleared and they want to hear from owners. “The program that we work with does a lot of work exclusively with private landowners. It’s federally a funded program called EQUIP, Environment Quality Incentives Program. Its goal is to put USDA money on the ground for private landowners to do this enhancement work,” Adams said. He says the program helps offset the costs of the long-term project. “We cost share. We have a per acre amount, so we cover about $1,200 per acre to clear and it may cost up to $1,400 per acre. And that’s where the landowner has to be on board for this habitat clearing that we are doing, because there is a pocket cost to them. But again, the benefits are you get a piece of land that is reclaimed.”

And it’s something that Berlin looks forward to reaping the benefits from for years to come. “I recommend it to people if they are inclined and have a parcel of land that’s appropriate,” she said.

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