Hinesburg’s low-lying valleys and upland hills create a landscape rich in topographic variability. This topography, in combination with the different influences of human management on the land, gives rise to an equal diversity of vegetative habitats, which in turn accommodate a wide range of wildlife.
We can observe several broad wildlife patterns in town. The eastern hills contain large, contiguous tracts of forest land, providing good habitat for moose, black bear, fisher cats, porcupines, wood frogs, and goshawks. In contrast, on the western side of town most of the land has been cleared, with islands of forest land amidst a sea of agricultural land. In the valley, open fields are inhabited by bobolinks, meadow voles, red foxes, bobcats, and garter snakes, among many others. There are still a few large patches of forest land in the valley, notably the Bissonette Property in the center of town that serves as the headwaters for the LaPlatte River. Toward the northern reaches of Hinesburg, the open spaces are more heavily fragmented by human development, which limits the wildlife diversity in these areas. Throughout town, wetland zones along the waterways provide ideal habitat for otters, raccoons, beavers, and turtles, and the spring meltwater that collects in low-lying depressions creates vernal breeding pools for frogs, salamanders, and woodland invertebrates. Other key habitat features include standing dead ‘snag’ trees, cavity trees, and rock ledges, all of which can provide sites for shelter, courtship, nesting, lookout posts, hunting, and caching food.
Versatile animals like deer are abundant throughout town, both in woodland and grassland settings. But how do animals like deer get from one patch of suitable habitat to the next? The answer lies in wildlife corridors. Just as our human roads allow us travel from town to town, corridors connect isolated patches of habitat together in a network across the landscape. These pathways play a crucial role in helping animals move about in search of food, for mating, for migration purposes, and for resting places. Waterways, ridgelines, and forested borders between open fields all serve as important conduits along which animals in Hinesburg travel. This travel isn’t without danger, however. In order to get from the eastern to the western side of town, animals often must venture across busy roadways, including Route 116.
Because of the mobility of animals and changing patterns of vegetation and habitats through time, the distribution of wildlife on the landscape today is dramatically different than the patterns present 150 years ago, when Vermont was heavily deforested. Likewise, the current patterns of suburban development in the greater Burlington area pose challenges for the town of Hinesburg; whether or not the hills will remain in their currently forested state, or the valley in agriculture production is yet to be decided. The diversity and viability of Hinesburg’s future animal populations ultimately depends on the thoughtful consideration, planning, and management by today’s human residents.