Act 250 and Forest Fragmentation

The issue

Vermont’s intact forest blocks and habitat connectivity areas are being fragmented by rural sprawl and subdivisions.

The increasing subdivision of forestland outside of Act 250 review is well documented in recent VNRC reports, which show that the amount of acreage in large undeveloped forest parcels is shrinking at a troubling rate, with residential development on the upswing. As more residential and second home development occurs, depending on how it is designed, it can impact forestlands in the following ways:

  • Decrease the ecological functions of forests, such as their ability to provide viable wildlife habitat, maintain water quality, mitigate floods, and sequester and store carbon.
  • Create parcels too small to be managed as working forests.
  • Decrease our forests’ ability to provide hunting and recreational opportunities. When land is posted as private, it limits public access.

Potential policy solutions

In 2017, the Vermont Legislature established the Commission on Act 250: The Next 50 Years to examine how to improve Act 250 as it approaches 50 years old, and established VNRC as an advisor to the Commission. In this capacity, VNRC proposed the following changes to Act 250 to better maintains our forests into the future:

Updates to Criterion 8

Following the approach in H.233, a bill VNRC strongly supported, and which passed the House in 2017, VNRC supports improving Criterion 8 to review whether a project has been designed to either avoid or minimize the fragmentation of forest blocks and wildlife connectivity areas through proactive site design.

Another approach is to update Criterion 8 to ensure that development will not have an undue adverse effect on forest blocks and connecting habitat.

Mitigation

If it is not feasible to avoid or minimize the fragmentation of forest blocks and connectivity areas through proactive site design, require mitigation, as with impacts to primary agricultural soils.

Resource-Based Jurisdiction

Consider resource-based jurisdiction that heightens Act 250 review in priority forest blocks and connectivity areas. This could be done by either automatically reviewing, or in the alternative, reviewing the creation of a smaller number of lots in these areas, versus the current jurisdictional triggers that result in very few subdivision proposals in forest blocks being reviewed.


Read VNRC’s Core Recommendations to Strengthen the Environment, Communities, and the Act 250 Process here.

With questions about Act 250 and how it relates to Vermont’s forests, please contact Jamey Fidel, General Counsel & Forest and Wildlife Program Director, at [email protected] or 802-223-2328 x117