Created on Thursday, 23 August 2007 10:55
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 August 2007 10:55
By Shayne Jaquith
This was sent to the members of the Fayston Development Review Board.
As I had scheduled a vacation for the week of August 26 some time ago I
am regretfully unable to attend the public hearing for the review of
Mr. Crean's proposal. I am writing to express my sentiment on the
proposal. As you all know I served on the Fayston Planning Commission
when it reviewed Mr. Crean's first proposal for subdividing this
parcel. The evidence presented to the commission during the process of
reviewing that proposal convinced me that Mr. Crean's proposal would
have significantly impacted black bear populations in the region and
that approving the proposal would be contradictory to the Fayston Town
Plan and Land Use Regulations.
After reviewing Mr. Crean's current proposal I have become convinced
that this proposal too would have serious ramifications for the black
bear populations to which the Slide Brook beech stand serves as a
critical food source. I ask you to carefully consider this project
proposal in the context of the goals of the Fayston Town Plan, the
intent of the Fayston Land Use Regulations, what is known of bear
biology and behavior and what is know of the Slide Brook Basin.
During the review of Mr. Crean's first proposal the Planning Commission
was presented with a great body of evidence supporting the fact that
the Slide Brook beech stand is a significant source of hard mast for
black bears of the region. The evidence came from state wildlife
biologist John Austin and records from the Act 250 review of Summit
Venture's 1995 application to construct a chairlift through the Slide
Brook Basin. During that Act 250 review Summit Venture's own expert
witness agreed that the Slide Brook area is a "necessary wildlife
According to the leader of the state of Vermont black bear management
team, "The bear habitat in the Slide Brook area is concentrated,
identifiable and crucial to the survival of black bears. The tree use
is phenomenal and the frequency of use is exceptional." There is no
denying that the Slide Brook beech mast stand is one of the most
significant black bear food resources in the region and the entire
state of Vermont.
Evidence also explained how beech nuts are not just an option for black
bears in Vermont but are absolutely necessary for bear reproduction.
The evidence explained that pregnant female bears must consume a
certain amount of fat before going into fall hibernation or their
bodies will terminate the pregnancy. In Vermont, female black bears
rely almost exclusively on beech nuts as a source of fat rich foods
prior to fall hibernation. Without beech stands black bear reproduction
would cease in most of Vermont.
Black bears are reclusive animals preferring to avoid contact with
humans. They are especially sensitive to human presence while feeding
in trees where they are vulnerable, without means to escape potential
threats. During review of Mr. Crean's first proposal state
wildlife biologist John Austin explained that for these reasons the
Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife consistently recommends a
one-quarter-mile buffer zone between areas of development and
concentrated areas of bear-scarred beech trees and that without a
one-quarter-mile buffer around the Slide Brook beech stand its value to
black bears is greatly diminished. The proposed development is entirely
within one-quarter miles of the Slide Brook beech stand and would
therefore greatly diminish its value as a bear feeding resource.
Travel corridors were another important element of black bear habitat
highlighted during review of Mr. Crean's first proposal. The Planning
Commission was presented with evidence explaining that bears are
wide-ranging animals that must move great distances across the
landscape to access different food sources at different times of the
growing season and also access mating and denning areas. Bears move
down to wetlands in the spring where the first herbaceous vegetation is
sprouting and then to areas of dense berry and apple production and in
the fall to beech stands. To make these journeys bears must have travel
corridors that provide concealment cover and security.
In order to determine whether an area is a travel corridor with 100
percent certainty requires overtime study of radio-collared
animals. Such studies have shown that travel corridors have
common characteristics with respect to topography, human presence,
origination and destination. Black bear biologists use these
characteristics to determine the location's likely corridors.
During the 1995 Summit Ventures Act 250 review, the applicant's expert
stated that "the occurrence of a corridor between the Slide Brook area
and habitat to the east is very likely." This conclusion is supported
by models used by the Vermont Agency of Transportation to predict
likely animal corridors and presented to the planning commission by
John Austin in 2007.
Mr. Crean's parcel and the proposed access to it are located within the
corridor area. This corridor connects the Slide Brook beech stand
feeding area to important wetlands to the east and the Northfield Ridge
beyond; it is critical for black bear movement across the central
Vermont landscape and approval of Mr. Crean's proposal would greatly
reduce black bear movement along it.
The facts I've presented here and many more can be found in the 2006
Notice of Decision on Mr. Crean's first proposal. I urge each of you to
read through that notice very carefully for I believe if you do you
will find that within the context of the Fayston Town Plan and Land Use
Regulations Mr. Crean's current proposal cannot be approved.
What cannot be found in the 2006 Notice of Decision is data that was
collected by Arrowwood Environmental during a 2007 Natural Heritage
Inventory conducted for the towns of Fayston and Waitsfield. As part of
that inventory Arrowwood Environmental identified and mapped mast
stands in the two towns. Arrowwood's report states, "When beech stands
are remote, use by black bear is generally higher than stands near
Attached please find a map of the natural heritage elements mapped as
part of the 2007 Natural Heritage Inventory within the vicinity of Mr.
Crean's proposal. It shows that the one-quarter buffer around the
mapped mast encompasses Mr. Crean's lot in its entirety. You will also
notice that the parcel is within a contiguous habitat unit and contains
whitetail deer overwintering area.
Mr. Crean has made significant concessions in this, his second proposal
for developing his parcel in the Slide Brook Basin. Unfortunately, no
matter how one might configure the individual lots, site the septic
systems, design the access road for multiple use and limit cutting of
vegetation on the parcel, it is impossible to prevent the significant
impact that increased human inhabitation within this area will have on
the value of the Slide Brook beech stand as a bear feeding resource.
As such, it is impossible to craft a subdivision on this parcel that is
consistent with the Fayston Town Plan and Land Use Regulations.
The Slide Brook beech stand is a very important wildlife habitat not
only for Fayston but for The Valley, the region and the entire state of
Vermont. Please protect this habitat for black bears and the larger
ecosystem that supports human life.
Shayne Jaquith lives in Fayston and is a member of the town planning commission.