A group of Mad River Valley residents gathered at the Big Picture Theater last week to discuss what they love about living in the Mad River Valley. Vermont Natural Resources Council and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department convened a "community values forum" to collect public input on natural resource values as part of the Forests, Wildlife, and Communities Project currently occurring in The Valley.   

"It was a great opportunity to hear from area residents about the places they value for recreation, scenic resources, wildlife, forestry, hunting and other uses," noted Jamey Fidel, Waitsfield resident and forest and biodiversity program director at Vermont Natural Resources Council.

About 45 residents attended the forum. Attendees broke into four groups and spent nearly an hour gathering around maps, circling places in The Valley that are well used and valued by area residents. The groups reported back at the end of the evening to share the mapping results and discuss the diverse values associated with natural resources in The Valley.

At the end of the evening, attendees also shared various conservation, recreation and planning initiatives that are currently occurring in The Valley. The list included wildlife inventories and forest management planning on town-owned parcels, mountain biking and recreational trail initiatives, and conservation easement projects on farm and forestland. 

Coordinators of the project plan to use the feedback from residents at the community values forum -- and from future public forums -- to develop community-supported strategies for the conservation of forests and wildlife habitat for diverse uses in the Mad River Valley. 

"Our goal is to complement initiatives already underway in The Valley and further inform future planning and conservation efforts, especially as they relate to forests and wildlife habitat," noted Jens Hilke, conservation planning biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

The Mad River Valley Planning District and local conservation commissions and resource groups have been partners in this initiative from the beginning. Linda Lloyd, MRVPD director, says "This is an important effort that pulls together all The Valley towns into an initiative that everyone can embrace and help to move forward."

The planning district's newly hired director Jane Lazorchak was one of the evening's facilitators.

"In my new role at the planning district, I am looking forward to continuing to participate in this project to coordinate and advance conservation-based planning initiatives in The Valley," said Lazorchak. "There are many important efforts underway, and this project is another great opportunity to utilize valuable expertise and skills to advance Valley resident's priorities when it comes to planning."

The Forests, Wildlife and Communities Project is a coordinated effort of the Mad River Planning District, Audubon Vermont, Vermont Natural Resources Council, Vermont Coverts: Woodlands for Wildlife, Northern Forest Alliance, and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department to foster a coordinated approach to wildlife and forestland conservation in the Mad River Valley. The project is supported through a grant from the Wildlife Action Opportunity Fund of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which is funded through the Doris Duke Charitable Trust to further the goals of Vermont's Wildlife Action Plan.