Due to the unique agricultural history of the state of Vermont, our landscape has been in a state of constant flux in the last few centuries. In general, Jericho went from a forested landscape to 80% tree-free when in agricultural use. Now much of the vegetation has grown back, carpeting the landscape in forests once again while only 20% remains open. The town’s wildlife has responded in a similar manner, with open-loving species growing in number during the agricultural era and now fading back as they are replaced once again by forest interior animals. Meanwhile, the human population has steadily grown, adding another variable to the changes of the land.
Like much of Vermont’s Green Mountain region, the majority of the Jericho landscape can be considered core or near-core wildlife habitat. A mostly rural community, the town connects along the eastern border with Mount Mansfield and the surrounding Green Mountains. With three rivers providing riparian passageways and connecting forested lands through much of the town, documentation by the Jericho-based organization Keeping Track shows that many animals use a corridor beginning in the Green Mountains to the east, follow Mill Brook through Mobb’s Farm and the University of Vermont’s Research Forest, pass north near the Barber Farm, then go through the forest either along Skunk Hollow Road or behind Barber Farm Road and actually cross Route 15 before making their way into Westford.
The town has considerable acreage in conserved forest that provides ideal habitat for many woodland interior species, including Wolfrun Natural Area, Mills Riverside Park, Kikas Valley Farm, Mobb’s Farm, the Old Mill, and many acres of private forestland. By virtue of excluding people from its boundaries, the Firing Range likely provides additional protection to wildlife. Making up roughly a fifth of the town’s area, this property’s restricted access to human travel means less frequent disturbance for nesting, denning, and foraging animals. Located directly next to Wolfrun Natural Area, the entire southeastern side of the town provides relatively undisturbed wilderness that encourages healthy populations of large mammals such as bear and moose as well as many of the less-often seen predators such as bobcat and fisher.
Prime habitat is not isolated to forest land, either. Open meadows provide additional habitat to animals such as red fox, long-tail weasel, many small mammals, and birds such as red-tail hawk, kestrel, and meadowlark—just to name a few. Open land has been conserved in several parts of the town, including areas of Mills Riverside Park, Kikas Valley Farm, and Mobb’s Farm, while many acres of private land provide additional field habitat. There has been a steady decline in the quantity of open space in Jericho over the last few decades, causing many species of historically abundant animals to decline. However, populations of these species—the horned lark, for example—were likely rare before forests were turned to farms in the previous century, so the present decrease may in some cases correspond to a return in population dynamics similar to that seen in pre-settlement times.
Of course, we can’t forget the waterways and wetland complexes. Wetlands near Skunk Hollow Road and near Jericho Center host animals such as beavers and otters, great blue and green herons, bitterns, and a number of other animals. Rivers and riparian areas are also good places to find yellow warblers, hairy and downy woodpeckers, and mammals of all sizes. Amphibians, too, rely on these wet areas for breeding habitat, as well as vernal pools that appear only in the spring months.
The town of Jericho contains a hearty variety of these wildlife habitats. For the wildlife observer, several public areas containing the full spectrum of habitat types can be a good place to look for an abundance of wildlife. For example, both Mobbs Farm and Mills Riverside Park contain open fields, conifer and hardwood forests, wetland or riparian areas, and springtime vernal pools within a short walk of each other.