Hinesburg’s is inventorying its unique natural resources.
Creating a Natural Resources Inventory map is phase one of a two-part effort geared toward protecting Hinesburg’s natural resources through data and site visits. The first part, which involved creating an inventory of Hinesburg’s natural resources, took a year and a half. Phase two will put “boots on the ground” to add to the data already collected.
The Hinesburg Conservation Commission recently held a virtual panel to introduce the town to the project, which will inform conservation efforts, local planning and development review in the area. The presentation was led by Jesse Mohr, a consultant with Native Geographic.
“I think that this diversity of land uses: having working farms, having working forests and having natural areas all in a pretty tight proximity is one of the things that make Hinesburg special,” said Mohr in highlighting the town’s unique ecology.
That variety leads to a plethora of habitats, inviting a wide range of wildlife into Hinesburg, said Mohr.
Among these species are bears, moose and fisher cats, which require areas of undisturbed, interior forest. Fragmentation happens when forest environments are disrupted by human development.
In order to preserve habitat, Mohr pointed to the importance of promoting connectivity, or the physical linking two habitats together to restore ecological flow.
“For Hinesburg to enjoy the benefits of this connected landscape, like having wide-ranging species like bear and moose occasionally in town, it means that Hinesburg needs to be intentional about finding these important areas for connectivity and managing them,” said Mohr.
Hinesburg is a transitional landscape due to its placement between the Champlain Valley and Green Mountains.
“We have valley clay plain forests near red pine forests,” said Mohr, a rare ecological combination that leads to a diversity of soil and landforms and allows for intermingling between species of different habitats.
Mohr emphasized the interconnected nature between preserving grasslands and wildlife.
“We lose lots of agricultural soils every year to development, particularly in the Champlain Valley,” said Mohr. “The Champlain Valley has an important role in grassland habitat at the continental scale, and those important agricultural soils translate to good wildlife habitats as well.”
Mohr said Hinesburg grasslands — and the birds living in them, such as the golden winged warbler — are under threat.
Elizabeth Doran, a research professor at the University of Vermont and a member of Hinesburg’s Conservation Commission shared the committee’s plans to highlight the negative impacts that developments have on the town’s ecology to landowners prior to their developments.
Doran said that will “hopefully mitigate the impacts of whatever they are thinking about doing and so we can proactively start to preserve and maintain what we have.”
Involving community members in Hinesburg’s conservation efforts is important, according to Kate Kelly, the chair of the conservation commission.
Kelly said the commission plans to integrate vernal pool surveys into the community two to three years down the line. Vernal pools are small collections of water that supply habitat to plants and animals.
“Those are things that could be easily adapted to include volunteers who can go out an adopt a vernal pool,” said Kelly. “It’s a good way to spread the work around.”
Phase two of the project will likely rely on the work of volunteers, who could track roadside wildlife, Mohr said.
The effort would bring community members into the fold and hopefully lead to more conservation efforts in Hinesburg, he said.
“The take home message is that we are in the middle of this natural resource inventory,” said Mohr. “We have done a substantial amount of work, but we haven’t really started with much of the boots on the ground work, and we still have a lot more to learn about the town.”