Jamey Fidel, It’s All About the Forest

Jamey Fidel, Forest and Wildlife Program Director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC), developed his love for conservation exploring the large, intact landscapes of Vermont and Colorado. He spent years developing his formidable “land conservation tool kit” marrying the varied approaches he learned at law school and from advocacy work, with zoning strategies, land acquisition and tax policies, community education, research and data collection.  “Working in Aspen, a place where 85 percent of the land was public and 15 percent was private, I saw first-hand the pressure to develop the privately held land!”

Fidel puts his “tool kit” and experience to good use at VNRC. Launched 50 years ago by farmers and foresters concerned about land use pressures in Vermont, VNRC focuses on land use and conservation. One of the leading SCI partners in Vermont, VNRC develops land use planning strategies that help towns, individuals, organizations, and agencies improve landscape connectivity. Sometimes that means helping to craft language to incorporate wildlife values into the town plan or a set of bylaws to be implemented before a land development project is reviewed and approved. Sometimes that means improving or writing subdivision regulations. Some towns, says Fidel, don’t even have zoning regulations.

“I go to a lot of meetings,” says Fidel. “Our first step is respecting the town’s perspective, wherever that takes us. We are a conduit for information.”

Much of VNRC’s work involves reducing the impact of infrastructure: the placement of roads, utility lines, and homes, helping people understand where the important land is and what mechanisms they can use to help wildlife and humans coexist on that land. This might mean anything from maintaining vegetation on both sides of the road to helping plan new developments. “We promote clustered developments—homes that are closer together to lessen road penetration rather than traditional cookie cutter developments.”

“It helps to be specific,” Fidel says, ever the master of understatement. If towns have overly vague regulations they are easily struck down, so we help towns craft enforceable natural resource policies.”

“Most towns are jazzed about protecting their wildlife,” says Fidel. “Once they have the information they need, they try to do the right thing.” Fidel and his colleagues are working on a Comprehensive Action Plan for Vermont and an Implementation Manual that will outline model land use approaches to habitat conservation and landscape connectivity.

“The forest is so amazing,” Fidel replies when asked why he does this work. “Each elevation with its different species. The variety of wildlife and habitats….for me, it’s all about being in the forest.”