The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department recently completed an eight-year program that provided federal funding to private landowners to conserve land for imperiled species in Vermont. The Landowner Incentive Program (LIP) brought nearly 1,600 acres under conservation easement, and helped create habitat and forest management plans for an additional 3,500 acres of privately owned land.
Biologist Jane Lazorchak, who spearheaded the effort for the department, said that many private landowners are unaware that they even have rare species on their property. “Prior to the start of LIP, we were unable to provide targeted assistance to landowners even if they were aware of their rare species and wanted to enhance the habitat,” said Lazorchak. “The department did not have adequate resources to identify threats on private lands or to monitor changes in ownership.”
The LIP program was established by the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund to provide financial assistance and biological expertise to private landowners. Financial assistance in Vermont was directed at landowners in the Champlain Valley, the region of the state that not only holds the greatest number of rare species but also the greatest concentration of people encroaching on increasingly scarce habitat.
“This program provided us with the unique opportunity to protect Vermont’s natural resources and provide public access while keeping land in private ownership,” said Lazorchak.
Lazorchak pointed out that one of the goals of the program was to help landowners overcome the financial obstacles associated with land conservation. She sites Jason Bacon from Bristol, who had considered putting his nearly 200-acre parcel on the market for development. Now that the property is under conservation easement through the LIP program, the land will be protected in perpetuity through a management plan developed with assistance from Fish & Wildlife Department staff. The land will also be open for public access.
“Because of the LIP program, I was able to make a minor return on my investment while conserving a great piece of land,” said Bacon.
Lazorchak says that the Fish & Wildlife Department partnered with The Nature Conservancy and the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board on the majority of LIP’s conservation easement projects. The department also partnered with local land conservation nonprofits such as the Watershed Center in Bristol.
David Brynn, a board member at the Watershed Center, described LIP as critical to helping add nearly 300 acres to the list of conserved lands they manage. “LIP was absolutely essential in galvanizing public support and coordinating the conservation of this piece of diverse, productive, beautiful land.”
The LIP program recently ended as a result of federal budget cuts. “LIP highlighted the important role of private lands in protecting wildlife habitat and public access,” said Lazorchak. “With the conclusion of the program, the Fish & Wildlife Department will be looking for ways to continue to fund this type of work in the future.”