Feb. 24, 2011By Tim Simard Observer staff
Balancing wildlife conservation with development in Williston has always been a tricky task, but new information could help the town toe that line.
For the past month, Williston planners and wildlife trackers from Huntington-based Arrowwood Environmental LLC, an ecological consulting firm, have been collecting data to determine where Williston’s animals roam most frequently. Town officials urged residents to visit Town Hall and mark locations on a map where they most commonly see wild animals. Some homeowners along established wildlife corridors even allowed trackers to access their property to search for animal signs.
While Williston sits in the foothills of the Green Mountains, it still acts as a habitat for countless woodland creatures, large and small, said Planner Jessica Andreoletti. People who live in Williston and outside of town are sometimes surprised at the variety of wildlife, especially in a town known for its business and retail areas.
According to the map posted at Town Hall, residents have found smaller animals – such as coyotes, fox, and bobcats – roaming their backyards and along the sides of busy roads. Even larger animals, like deer, moose and bear, sometimes get spotted by locals.
“We have a lot going on here in town,” Andreoletti said.
Determining where all these animals roam, and how far these corridors stretch, remain the most important goals of the tracking project, Andreoletti said. Knowing the updated locations of the wildlife corridors will help planners determine areas that might need a light touch when it comes to development.
A $10,000 grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program, along with allotted money from the town, helped fund the $16,000 study, Andreoletti said.
Once Arrowwood Environmental completes its work, which could be as early as next month, the data will be given to the University of Vermont’s Spatial Analysis Laboratory to update existing wildlife corridors. Students would then map the corridors, which planners will present to the Selectboard and town residents. The town has already enlisted the help of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, an environmental organization that has dealt with similar processes throughout the state.
Andreoletti said the tracking and map making is only the first step in an ongoing process. Eventually, the town will hold several public meetings to gather input on possible wildlife habitats and any changes to current development laws this information might create. She admitted there could be some spirited debate ahead.
“It’s going to be a long process,” Andreoletti said. “By the end, hopefully we’ll find out how important wildlife is to Williston residents.”
South Burlington underwent a similar study and implemented development changes to a part of its community. South Burlington’s Planning and Zoning Director Paul Connor said the city began a study in 2002 and adopted wildlife protection standards for “medium-sized mammals” in 2006. It was part of an analysis that also included new designations for open space, Connor added.
Many of the open space and wildlife standards applied only to a section of South Burlington known as the “Southeast Quadrant,” which borders Williston along the Muddy Brook.
“There’s always been an interest in accommodating wildlife in that part of the city,” Connor said.
The regulations urged landowners to seek development in other parts of town instead of the Southeast Quadrant, and even offered incentives, Connor said. He added that some residents challenged the guidelines, especially those with development plans in that part of South Burlington.
While Williston’s study could soon mirror South Burlington’s results, Connor said the wildlife study proved invaluable to many of the city’s residents.
“It can be a very positive process for all involved,” he said.
Andreoletti said she hopes for a constructive process and stressed the importance of determining wildlife corridors and habitats for managing future development.
“We’re part of a region here and it’s important to see where Williston sits in a network of corridors throughout the state,” she said.