This paper is a result of a request from the Black Bear Sub-Group of the Deerfield Wind Project review team for a historic overview of the process undertaken in 1995 to investigate black bear movement corridors prior to the construction of the existing wind turbines in Searsburg, Vermont. At the June 20, 2005 meeting of the Sub-Group, it was thought that such an explanation could assist the US Forest Service in their overall evaluation of the proposed Deerfield Wind Project expansion onto federal land. This paper is simply a recount of the process undertaken in 1995 and does not offer any additional research or field investigation other than what transpired in the process of permitting the original project.
In 1995, large blocks of American beech were known to exist on both the east and west sides of VT Route 8 in the vicinity of the then proposed Searsburg wind turbine project. At the time, the VT Department of Fish & Wildlife (VDFW) relied on studies indicating that a fall diet rich with beechnuts had been found to enhance black bear reproduction and survival during the winter hibernation period. Consequently, VDFW considered large blocks of beech habitat to be critical to the survival of black bears.
American beech trees are found on the slope and ridge immediately rising to the west of Route 8, however, to the east, the beech are found in the Lamb Brook valley on the easterly side of a ridge that rises to nearly 3,000 feet. In other words, for bears to move from the western beechnut feeding area to the eastern beechnut feeding area, they must come off the western ridge, cross Rt 8, proceed up and over the ridge proposed for the original wind turbine project, and down into the Lamb Brook valley. Original concern by VDFW was that the proposed site of the wind project was in the path of bear movement between the habitat blocks. Construction of the wind project could potentially disrupt this historic black bear movement behavior and result in habitat fragmentation.