Orvis Co., well known as a retailer of outdoors merchandise and as a company with a strong conservation ethic, is trying to reach an accord with state wildlife officials to let it build a headquarters near prime habitat for black bears.
Orvis is seeking a permit to build a 53,000-square-foot building on a wooded hillside just off Route 7. The site is 12 miles north of Bennington and 12 miles south of the old headquarters in Manchester.
Black bears routinely cross the highway near the site as they travel between the Taconic Range and the Green Mountains, wildlife biologists say. The scientists fear that the Vermont bear population of 2,500 will decrease if the corridor is disrupted.
“These corridors are habitually used by bears to access different parts of their range, whether it be to get food supplies or travel for breeding,” said Douglas Blodgett, a biologist in the State Agency of Natural Resources. “We know over time that as habitat becomes more and more fragmented and less contiguous, the population suffers eventually.”
The project architect, Thomas Wood, said the state hoped to negotiate an agreement with Orvis similar to those made with ski areas that wanted to expand.
The Killington ski area, for example, has agreed to exchange 3,000 acres of black bear habitat, Parker’s Gore, for 1,000 acres of state land that links it to the Pico ski area.
“In general, the state is interested in doing something similar. It’s just a question of what is reasonable mitigation,” Wood said.
Orvis donates 5 percent of its pretax profits to conservation efforts. Since 1988, it has raised more than $2 million for many projects, including restorations of the Blackfoot River in Montana and the South Fork of the Snake River in Idaho, the company says.
The president and chief executive of the company, Leigh Perkins Jr., told the District 8 Environmental Commission last week that Orvis fully supported the process for land-use permits.
To obtain a permit, Orvis has to demonstrate that its proposed headquarters would meet 10 environmental criteria, including a requirement that it not endanger wildlife habitats.
“The permitting process in Vermont,” Perkins said, “has come under a great deal of attack, and I think unjustly so.”