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FIsh, Wildlife and Habitat
The human dimension
/ Nuisance exotics
Wildlife and Vermont's economy / Spotlight On: Working for Wildlife

During the past 300 years, the Vermont landscape has experienced dramatic shifts in vegetation cover and habitat types.

At the time of European settlement, the state was almost completely forested. By the mid-1800s, however, only 25 percent or so remained in forest cover, with land cleared for logs, farming, and villages. Many forest-dependent species declined or were extirpated during the 19th Century - including moose, deer, fisher, beaver, wild turkey, and a whole host of perching birds such as woodpeckers, thrushes, and warblers. At the same time, grassland bird populations increased markedly.

As we approach the year 2000, we find Vermont's landscape dominated by trees, with more than 75 percent of the state forested. With forests again dominating our landscape, we find that many species uncommon 100 years ago have returned to Vermont.

The future offers new challenges as the landscape continues to change, but in ways less dramatic to the average eye. To many of us a forest is a forest. Trees, however, grow and age, and many forest stands are much older than ever before in this century. This impacts wildlife habitat, which can be favorable for some species and bad for others.

The breakup of forest land into smaller parcels is making land management and conservation planning more difficult. Fragmentation also poses problems for species dependent on large, connected forest blocks by creating barriers to travel.

The human dimension

Change has not only occurred within the forest, wetlands, and field, but also in the offices, coffee shops, and homes of the state. Given that fewer people work the land, it's not surprising there are major shifts in thinking about the role or value of hunting and trapping. In addition, many people do not understand the connection between habitat and animal populations or appreciate the need to protect wild places.

Chart: Damage to personal property by wildlifeAlthough more people have moved into rural settings to enjoy nature, they often are unprepared to deal with the wildlife problems they encounter. The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife is expected to solve these problems, often without using lethal control measures.

For example, the Department in 1996 commissioned a telephone survey of 1,005 Vermont households about a variety of wildlife management issues. Twenty-four percent of those surveyed indicated they had experienced personal property damage caused by wildlife in the previous five years. Deer and raccoons were the two species most frequently selected as causing damage (Figure 1). The same survey found that nearly 50 percent of those people experiencing property damage were opposed to resolving the problem by decreasing the size of the problem population.

Nuisance exotics

While many recent events have focused on aquatic nuisance exotic species such as zebra mussels and Eurasian water milfoil, other wildlife and plant species also have invaded the state. The most recent, high-profile example is the mute swan. Although many Vermonters believe the mute swan is a benign, graceful bird, the Department of Fish and Wildlife considers this swan to be a dangerous threat to aquatic ecosystems. With the backing of several conservation organizations, the Department in 1997 developed a policy designed to prevent the mute swan from establishing itself in Vermont.

New species continue to arrive in Vermont and across North America, both accidentally and intentionally, often involving international trade. The rate of invasion appears to have increased markedly in recent years and, despite federal and state regulatory efforts, it is likely to continue rising. Factors leading to this are many:

Invasive species do not have to prey upon or compete directly with native species to have a detrimental effect. Sometimes the harm is caused indirectly by the parasites and diseases they harbor. Nuisance exotic species are often generalists with a high degree of tolerance to a variety of environmental conditions. This makes it easier for them to adapt to a warmer or colder, or wetter or drier habitat than species with very specific environmental requirements.

Vermont will likely be exposed to more nuisance exotic species in the future, especially from accidental importation. Additional federal and state laws such as those requiring the inspection of incoming shipments will help. More outreach efforts are also needed. We need to communicate the risks of accidental importation to those involved in interstate and international commerce. And, we must provide risk information for people who want to import exotic species.

Wildlife and Vermont's economy

We have known for years that Vermont's fish and wildlife resources are important to us for recreation. We're now beginning to acknowledge that wildlife contributes significantly to the state's economy as well.

In 1996, the number of hunting licenses sold included 80,910 to residents and 14,696 to nonresidents. The same year, 79,210 residents and 50,719 nonresidents purchased fishing licenses. That includes combination hunting and fishing licenses for residents (34,871) and nonresidents (1,737). According to national and state surveys, more than 80 percent of Vermonters participate in some form of wildlife-associated recreation, including hunting, fishing, photography, wildlife watching, bird watching, and feeding birds.

University of Vermont Resource Economist Dr. Alphonse Gilbert has estimated that hunting contributes $112 million and fishing $120 million annually to Vermont's economy. People who watch and photograph wildlife and those who maintain bird feeders have an economic impact of more than $53 million each year to the state's economy.

In addition to wildlife's strong positive economic impact on our economy, the timing and distribution of hunting and fishing seasons are important. Hunting's big push is after the leaves are off and before the skis are on. And, although fishing occurs throughout the year, April and May bring a real boost of activity as fishing picks up.

Consider, too, that people who enjoy wildlife recreation often spend their money in small communities, including the more remote sections of the state.

The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife is working with the Department of Tourism and Marketing, chambers of commerce, and private businesses to help market wildlife recreation in a coordinated, much stronger manner than ever before.


Spotlight on Working for Wildlife

Don Rosinski and fellow members of Sportsmen's Inc. of Brattleboro helped kick off Vermont's first Working for Wildlife habitat improvement project in 1997.

Working for Wildlife is a new cooperative effort between sporting groups, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and professional land managers designed to improve landowner relations and wildlife habitat.

Don helped in apple tree release efforts on private property with the advice of foresters and wildlife biologists. He marshaled the efforts of volunteers who used chainsaws and axes to remove competing trees from around old apple trees, knowing that apples are favored by deer, bear, grouse, porcupine, fox, coyote, rabbits, chipmunks, and many songbirds.

"We want to give something back to the resource and to the landowner," says Don. "Maybe, just maybe we can help the wildlife we enjoy, and give our sport a much needed image improvement."

Don is at it again with more Working for Wildlife projects planned for 1998. He hopes others throughout the state will do the same. Information on how to get involved is available from the Fish and Wildlife Department.