Study focuses on health of Vermont’s wildlife

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(Host) The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department is involved in a nationwide effort to take stock of country’s wildlife. Officials say when the work is completed it will be the first time that all of the state’s animals, plants and insects have been surveyed.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Biologists, sportsmen and conservationists have spent a lot of time studying Vermont’s game animals and endangered species. But Jon Kart of the state Fish and Wildlife Department says most of the state’s wildlife doesn’t fall into those categories.

(Kart) “The other 95 percent of the wildlife in the state has been virtually ignored due to lack of funds, due to lack of biologists to work on them and manage them and care for them. Finally, just a few years ago, Congress came up with the state wildlife grant program and this program provides money for that other 95 percent.”

(Zind) The federal government is requiring states to devise what’s called a Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. Kart heads up Vermont’s effort. He’s been working with representatives from more than 60 groups to gather information about everything from crawfish to black bears.

The idea is to alert officials to species that are in trouble before they reach a critical point. Kart says the study is designed to find out which species are healthy and which are in decline, and to identify threats to species and strategies to conserve them. He says it’s clear that for many species declining habitat is clearly an issue.

(Kart) “In the Champlain Valley we have a fraction of the clay-plain forest we once had. And the number of species that might live there, well we’re just starting to figure out because there’s maybe 10 percent left. I guess the main piece is, we’re finding key habitats that need attention.”

(Zind) Kart says the biggest surprise so far is how little we know about many species. He says once every state has completed its survey, scientists, policymakers and the public will for the first time have a big picture idea of the health of the nation’s wildlife.

(Kart) “And really be able to show what do we need to do to preserve wildlife in America. And that’s going to be a great moment.”

(Zind) Kart says a draft of Vermont Comprehensive Wildlife Strategy should be complete by spring when the state will hold public hearings on the plan. But the work will be ongoing because Kart says there’s still much to learn about Vermont’s wildlife.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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