Bristol conservationists look to protect bat habitat

BRISTOL — Conservationists in Bristol are looking to protect a 194-acre parcel of land in the northwest corner of town, which they say provides a large chunk of habitat for the Indiana bat, Vermont’s only federally endangered mammal.
The parcel would also extend the scope of the Waterworks, a 664-acre park conserved in the 1990s by the Watershed Center, a Bristol non-profit that converted the land from the one-time Vergennes City reservoir into a popular recreational and wildlife refuge on Plank Street.
After teaming up with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, it’s the Watershed Center once again that’s leading the charge to conserve the additional land, which abuts the western edge of the Waterworks.
“(The Waterworks is) a fantastic piece of land ecologically,” said Bristol resident David Brynn, the co-president of the Watershed Center. “But more than that, it is a place where people who have different perspectives on conservation can feel at home.”
Jason and Nina Bacon currently own the adjacent parcel, which is made up mostly of woodland with about 20 acres of meadow and tillable land. The Bacons are already generous with the property, Brynn said, and allow visitors to the Waterworks to use part of the land to access the western flank on the existing Waterworks parcel.
Now, Brynn explained, the Watershed Center is working to obtain a conservation easement for the property, valued at $160,000. (They hope eventually to purchase the land.) The parcel has been appraised at $233,000. If the land weren’t conserved, Brynn said, the “highest and best use” of the property would call for the land to be divided into two residential building lots, development he thinks would not only detract from the Waterworks property but seriously diminish the ecological functions and values of the forest.
Perhaps most importantly, Brynn said, the forested parts of the Bacon property have been identified by Department of Fish and Wildlife experts as prime summer maternity habitat for the Indiana bat, a medium-sized bat listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Biologists have tracked the bats on land just north of the Bacon property. The bats migrate from their winter hibernacula in New York to Vermont, where female bats spend the summer breeding season. Ideal summer habitats — like the Bacon property — include forests with shaggy bark trees where the bats can roost, nearby wetlands that provide a steady diet of insects, and limited understory to obstruct the bats’ flight patterns.
According to Department of Fish and Wildlife botanist Jane Lazorchak, the Champlain Valley is the only region in Vermont where the Indiana bat can be found.
In addition to providing optimal bat habitat, the Bacon property also includes vernal pools and many uncommon oak forest communities.
The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife has already secured $120,000 to put toward the conservation easement, using some federal money that’s available to protect endangered species. In order for the department to purchase the easement, Bristol selectmen have to OK the plan, and they voted unanimously to do so on Oct. 19.
Now, the Watershed Center is working to drum up the extra $40,000 for the easement. Eventually they hope to purchase the land from the Bacons, who Brynn dubbed “very patient and ardent conservationists.”
The Watershed Center hopes to raise the remaining money by the end of December.
If the Bacon property is added to the Waterworks, the park would grow to a little more than 850 acres. Already, Brynn said, the land there is used frequently by dog walkers, mountain bikers and hikers.
“What I think is especially neat is that it’s all sorts of folks. It’s people who are really interested in the working landscape, and then there are other people who are really interested in remote wilderness. It’s big enough for both.”

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