Report charts trends in forest ownership
MONTPELIER — The Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) released a report this fall that systematically tracks how parcel ownership is changing in Vermont, revealing where — and the rate at which — the breaking up of parcels (called “parcelization”) is occurring in our forests. The report, Tracking Parcelization Over Time, is accompanied by a website that allows viewers to select and visualize a range of metrics from the parcelization database.
View the VT Parcelization Website at vtforesttrends.vnrc.org/home, and download the report at vtforesttrends.vnrc.org/reports. An executive summary can be viewed here as well.
Vermont is the third most forested of the lower 48 states, with approximately 4.6 million acres of forestland. But the state is actually losing forest cover due to parcelization, subdivision, and the subsequent development of land.
Developed by a multi-disciplinary team of researchers and natural resources professionals, Tracking Parcelization Over Time provides year-to-year data showing that Vermont’s large, undeveloped forest parcels are shrinking, and identifies the following key parcelization trends from 2004-2016 on private land:
• The number of large parcels (50 acres or larger) declined over the study period, while the number of parcels less than 50 acres increased by 8,746 parcels.
• The amount of “woodland,” which represents mostly undeveloped forestland (there may be a seasonal camp), decreased by 147,684 acres, or approximately 15 percent over the study period (a portion of which was due to land transferring to public ownership).
• The number of parcels less than 50 acres in size with dwellings increased by 20,747 parcels, which is an increase of 8.8 percent over the study period. More specifically, the number of parcels in the 2-5 and 5-10 acre size categories increased by 10.25 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
• Residential acreage increased by 162,670 acres, which is a 7 percent increase over the study period.
Across the state, the per-acre value of land in Vermont nearly doubled during the study period, though increases varied greatly depending on location.
“In the forest community, we knew about these parcelization trends, but did not have the tools to quantify them over time. Now we do,” said Jamey Fidel, Forest and Wildlife Program Director at VNRC and the Lead Principal Investigator for the report. “It’s no longer a question of whether Vermont is losing undeveloped woodland parcels; it’s a question of how much, and where, and how we can help reverse the rate at which it is happening.”
Tracking Parcelization Over Time presents several recommendations for addressing the parcelization of our forests. On the legislative side, these include continuing to fund the Current Use Program to maintain working forests, passing improvements that allow Act 250 to play a more meaningful role in reviewing the impacts of development on forestland, and ensuring that the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) is fully funded with adequate annual revenue to achieve its land conservation goals.
The report also recommends renewed efforts to boost succession planning, making it easier for woodland owners to pass down their land as intact parcels to heirs; and implementing Act 171, which requires municipalities and regions to identify areas that are important as forest blocks and habitat connectors and to plan for development in these areas to minimize forest fragmentation.
“We know that local officials across Vermont are thinking about the best ways to protect forest resources in their communities,” said Kate McCarthy, VNRC’s sustainable communities program director and co-Principal Investigator. “We hope the information in the report and the interactive website will make their work easier, and be a useful conversation starter about ways to address the trends — particularly since so many land use decisions are made at the local level.”
“If we don’t do anything about the trends we’re seeing now, in 50 years we’ll have lost nearly 60 percent of our undeveloped, privately owned woodland parcels,” said Fidel. “Beyond helping to inform decision makers in the legislature, this new report will be a crucial tool for professionals in the land use planning, conservation and natural resource community to work together on maintaining Vermont’s intact forests before it’s too late.”