Space for Wildlife

Aerial view of forests and hills with state route running through it - Many animals, such as the gray fox, need to be able to move safely between the Greens and Worcester mountains.

Protecting the Shutesville Hill Wildlife Corridor

The woods around Waterbury and Stowe are welcoming a relatively new, and secretive, resident. With a striking swath of salt and pepper hair and a penchant for climbing trees, gray foxes are increasingly spotted on game cameras. More common in lower latitudes, they’re likely expanding their range as the climate changes.

Gray fox are finding refuge in the Shutesville Hill Wildlife Corridor, a roughly 10,000-acre patchwork of woodlands along the Waterbury-Stowe town line. The corridor is the only viable connection for animals, including wide-ranging animals like bear and bobcat that need different habitats across their lifespan, moving between the Green Mountains and the Worcester Range.

Yet, with Route 100 running through it and proximity to ski areas, the corridor faces enormous development pressure. Much of the land is privately owned and unprotected. A narrow area along busy Route 100 is the only point that connects the large forest blocks, and gives this wildlife crossing an outsized importance.

VLT is partnering with local and statewide groups, as well as the international Staying Connected Initiative, to safeguard the corridor.

“We are employing conservation science, land protection, land use planning, outreach and education, as well as transportation improvements at the Route 100 wildlife crossing,” said Jens Hawkins-Hilke, Conservation Planner with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

Landowners are crucial to the project’s success. “[They’ve] been really supportive of our efforts,” said Allan Thompson, a forester, wildlife biologist, and chair of the Waterbury Conservation Commission. “They’ve hosted game cameras and field visits that are helping to educate the community and other landowners about the importance of this place.”

In addition, landowners in Waterbury have protected more than 460 high-priority acres with VLT this year. “Conserving property in this wildlife corridor makes us feel more connected to our forestland—as if we’re now managing it with more purpose for the future,” said Waterbury resident Dale Smeltzer.

These protected lands will benefit the gray fox, which needs cover to travel and especially to cross roads, and all the other creatures that depend on these woods.

Gray fox climbing a tree

Many animals, such as the gray fox, need to be able to move safely between the Greens and Worcester mountains.

 

See vlt.org/shutesville to learn more and see a full list of partners.

 


Story by Rachel Mullis. Photo of Waterbury woods by David Middleton. This story appeared in our 2019-20 Year in Review.