Town commits to conservation via conservation fund and land trust

Vermont is well known for its incredible natural resources. Communities throughout the Green Mountain State have chosen to conserve special lands like forests, river corridors and wetlands.

In Charlotte, the Charlotte Conservation Fund and Charlotte Land Trust have been instrumental in conserving our town’s natural resources.

A conservation fund is a dedicated fund set up by a town to conserve lands and waters. It represents a long-term public investment in land conservation. In 1974, the town of Norwich established the first local conservation fund. Now, at least 62 towns have conservation funds — about 25 percent of all Vermont towns.

Local conservation funds offer towns many benefits, such as leveraging or tapping into matching funds, advancing town goals and providing flexibility to act on fast-moving projects. Beyond its direct dollar value, a conservation fund can leverage additional dollars from other funding sources. Often, competitive grant programs require a certain percent of matching funds from applicants.

Conservation funds can also help towns achieve community goals in many town plans. When the chance to conserve an important parcel of land arises suddenly, local conservation funds can expedite conservation. A robust conservation fund signals townspeople’s commitment to being a paying partner in a conservation project.

In 1996, Charlotte voters established the Charlotte Conservation Fund by Australian ballot to assist achieving maximum protection of valued town natural and agricultural resources as identified in the town plan. The vision was to combine with other public and private funds to protect not only agricultural soils, but also wildlife habitat and corridors, significant natural areas and scenic vistas.

Today, the Charlotte Conservation Fund is supported by taxpayer dollars. Early on, the fund was incorporated as a percentage of tax revenue, but it is now a budget item approved by the selectboard. The requested amount varies depending on ongoing projects and the current balance in the account. Given budgetary constraints, no funding has been requested in the past two consecutive years.

Applications to use the Charlotte Conservation Fund are made to the selectboard. To apply, contact the town offices. The applicant makes presentations to the conservation commission, the recreation committee, the trails committee and the Charlotte Land Trust. These groups submit comments on the application to the selectboard, which then reviews and acts on the application.

In 1986, the Charlotte Land Trust was formed as an outgrowth of an agricultural committee appointed to assist in developing a new town plan. By 1995, the Charlotte Land Trust became a non-profit 501c(3) corporation. Since then, the Charlotte Land Trust has reached out to numerous “Friends of the Charlotte Land Trust” who support its work through donations.

Since 1995, the Charlotte Land Trust has acquired 15 conservation easements on local land, totaling approximately 627 acres. From the start, the focus has been to conserve farmland and make it affordable to farmers. Other goals are preserving land for wildlife habitat and corridors, public recreation and scenic or significant natural areas. To donate, please visit the website.

Charlotters’ commitment to land conservation and environmentally responsible development is evident in the Charlotte Town Plan and Land-Use Regulations.

Charlotte is different from neighboring towns such as Ferrisburg and Hinesburg that do not have taxpayer-supported conservation funds. While Shelburne and Williston do have taxpayer-supported conservation funds, we are unique in having both the Charlotte Land Trust and the Charlotte Conservation Fund. The existence of a donor-supported local land trust and a municipal fund dedicated to conservation easement acquisition is testimony to the commitment of Charlotte residents to conservation.

There is a saying that if you believe in something, you should “put your money where your mouth is.” The Charlotte Land Trust and the Charlotte Conservation Fund are proof that our community is committed to protecting and conserving the fields and forests that make our town a special home for the humans and wildlife that live here.