Wildlife Watch: A look at Vermont’s newest Wildlife Management Area

Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 4:29 PM EDT
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WESTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The state of Vermont has more than 100 Wildlife Management Areas, and the latest one is so new it doesn’t even have a name yet. It encompasses hundreds of acres.

Buckling up their snowshoes, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Land Acquisition Coordinator Will Duane heads out for the day with the president of the Mount Holly Conservation Trust, Jon McCann.

“This is an old part of Route 100 that used to zigzag its way into Weston,” Duane noted.

Now, the land connecting Weston and Mount Holly is the state’s 104th Vermont Wildlife Management Area.

“Our priorities for land acquisition are kind of one, a wildlife habitat, and one B would be public access. So these are lands that are primarily intended to preserve habitat and manage habitat for wildlife populations. But these lands also belong to the people of Vermont, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife stewards and manage them on their behalf so they’re open for all types of wildlife-based recreation,” Duane said.

Evidence of wildlife in the area comes quickly as they spot bobcat tracks.

This wildlife management area is so new, it doesn’t have a parking lot, signage or an official name yet. But it’s already having an impact on the area for conservation and recreation.

“One of the key aspects of this is its connectivity between two existing sections of Okemo State Forest. And it’s a bridge between the central part of Okemo State Forest that surrounds Okemo Mountain and what are known as the Pace lands just to the south of us across Route 100. And for a very long time, those two parts weren’t connected and this project brought them together,” McCann said.

“So altogether, about 440, 450 acres, but this is important black bear corridor, so the black bears migrate north and south along the spine of the Green Mountains. We’re surrounded by the Okemo State Forest up to our north and to the east. Far to the west is the Green Mountain National Forest. And right here crossing Route 100 is a critical pinch point for where the black bears move north and south. So by conserving this parcel, mostly on the north of the road, but with a little bit to the south of route 100, it’s a great conductivity for black bears,” Duane said.

The state says after studying the wildlife habitat, they recognize it’s vital for black bear habitat.

“In order for black bears to stay in the places we want them to stay, it’s really important to conserve critical corridors like this,” Duane said.

Walking deeper into the woods, evidence of bears is easily found.

“What we got here is a classic beech tree for bear habitat. You can see along the tree these fainter marks, these are fresh bear scars. You can see where their nails and claws scraped against the bark,” Duane pointed out.

The state says they were able to get the land through working with the Mount Holly Conservation Trust and a private donor. The total value of the land was north of $750,000 but it only cost the state just over $300,000.

There will be some maintenance but no added trails when complete, which is good news for the locals who want to enjoy the land.

“If we had let it be sold, it would have turned into a development. Probably a number of houses, probably ski homes. And, unfortunately, that would have meant the loss of some pretty important hunting land for people in the area, wildlife viewing habitat, as well as the loss of the vital habitat for those black bears,” McCann said.

As the wildlife management area is officially open, they plan to have a grand opening this spring.