The purpose of forest zoning districts is to promote the sustainable, long-term management of forest resources and related uses, including forestry. By establishing districts where forests are the focus, municipalities can reduce forest fragmentation and ensure that large tracts of land remain available for forest management as well as for other functions, such a wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.
Vermont statute recognizes the importance of forestry to Vermont, and specifically enables municipalities to create a “forest district” that is limited to forest management, if they choose (24 V.S.A. §4414(1)(B)). A forest district helps keep forests available for forest management, wildlife resources, recreation, and other benefits. Though the statute recognizes the benefits of keeping forests free from development, it defers to the municipality on whether it is necessary to prohibit or simply limit development to meet this goal.
Forest districts frequently encompass land at high elevations, and limiting development in these areas can have the added benefit of protecting other resources important to the community, such as scenic ridgelines, steep slopes, wildlife habitat and headwaters.
Within these districts municipalities may require very low densities of development, or prohibit development unrelated to forest management. Because the success of a forest district relies on very low development densities, large parcel sizes suitable for resource management, and avoiding conflicts between incompatible land uses, limiting the type, location and overall density of development is one of the most important tools for keeping working forests intact.
Common characteristics of forest zoning districts include: large lot requirements, low average development densities and prohibitions on most development, and special development standards.
It’s important to remember that zoning bylaws cannot regulate accepted forest management practices as defined by the Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation, but they can address the impacts of development within the district on forest resources. For example, bylaws can regulate forest clearing that is related to subdivision activity or housing development.
Related Case Studies
“Forest Zoning Districts,” Community Strategies for Vermont’s Forests and Wildlife: A Guide for Local Action. Chapter 13, p. 46.
Please Note: Language used in this summary was adapted from Community Strategies for Vermont’s Forests and Wildlife: A Guide for Local Action, Chapter 13.