Before we get too far into 2020, I wanted to take the opportunity to look back and reflect on the amazing work of the Agency’s scientists and engineers over the past 10 years in service to Vermonters and Vermont’s incredible natural resources. After all, a lot can happen in a decade.
- There have been several exciting recovery successes related to some of Vermont’s most charismatic critters, including the osprey, the common loon, and the spiny softshell turtle. The Agency and our partners continue the work needed to implement more than 10 active species recovery plans. Each plan been designed to reverse long-term trends of declining populations for some of our most sensitive creatures – from lake sturgeon to timber rattlesnakes – and move us in the direction of abundant, healthy, diverse populations of fish and wildlife throughout Vermont.
- Visitation to Vermont State Parks has increased nearly 40% over the past 10 years, and in 3 of the last 5 years, attendance at Vermont State Parks topped 1 million visitors! Collectively those visits are now responsible for almost $93 million of visit-related consumer spending in Vermont annually. This is just one indicator of the expanding recreational use of state lands managed by the Agency and the impact of outdoor recreation on Vermont’s viability and vitality.
- Food rescue and composting are on the rise. As a result of the Universal Recycling law (Act 148) enacted in 2012, the Agency has expanded efforts to promote and increase food donation and composting. Food donations to the Vermont Foodbank have more than tripled since 2014, and Vermonters are composting more than ever with up to 70% of Vermonters saying they now separate some or all their food waste for composting or feeding animals. These small steps can really add up. If every Vermonter composted their food waste, it would be the same as taking over 7,000 vehicles off the road each year.
But looking back isn’t very meaningful unless we also look ahead, and it’s impossible to look ahead without confronting the impacts of climate change in our state and beyond.
One critical piece of the climate mitigation and adaptation puzzle are Vermont’s forests. Large forest blocks clean and protect our waters, minimize erosion, store flood waters, provide wildlife habitat, clean the air, capture carbon, provide outdoor recreation, and maintain Vermont’s landscape. And, unfortunately, a weak forest economy translates into weak forests. Vermont is currently losing forests – about 1% over the last decade, which may sound small but translates to nearly 50,000 acres. The economic viability of our working lands plays in a key role protecting the more than 4.5 million acres of forests covering Vermont’s landscape. That is why I was pleased to have an opportunity to visit a mechanized logging operation on a portion of Weyerhaeuser’s 86,000-acre Vermont ownership, part of the “former Champion lands”, to learn more about sustainable forestland management practices and the important role periodic timber harvest play in keeping our forestlands forested.
The greatest environmental challenges facing us in the decade ahead will stem directly from our changing climate, and we must have the courage to act. As Greta Thunberg recently stated, “You cannot leave the responsibility to individuals, politicians, the market or other parts of the world to take. This has to include everything and everyone.” As we enter 2020, I believe it is essential that we each take personal responsibility to reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions. In my efforts, I have started small, allowing a corner of my yard to grow back up into perennial plants this past summer, which will ultimately revert to trees, and expanding my backyard composting operation with a Green Cone to accommodate meat and other, more challenging, organics. In turn, this has led me to other actions including establishing “no meat Mondays” as a household norm and exploring how an electric vehicle would meet my family’s driving needs. Every decision that impacts our energy use matters, and I hope you will all join me in committing to a grassroots effort to make progress on this important issue.
Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation
While we’ve had so many accomplishments over the last ten years, from historic legislative changes like establishing the legal right to conduct forestry operations and making theft of timber a crime to surpassing a million visitors annually in our iconic state parks to conserving thousands of acres of public land to growing participation in outdoor recreation and in turn supporting our rural economy...it would be impossible to celebrate just one of these at the expense of all the others.
Instead, what defines our work over the past decade is the interconnection—of people to forests and forests to people; of our dedicated employees working together across programs, divisions, and departments in support of our mission; and of the ways our work informs and benefits many other elements of society, from environmental stewardship to public health to local economies.
Our work is connected to so much, but most importantly it’s connected to you.
The forested landscape is essential to all parts of our lives, and getting people into the forest is essential to fostering connections to the natural world and all that we enjoy because of it. As we like to put it, “we’re bringing the people to the woods and the woods to the people.” Among other things, this means:
- Supporting working forests that provide us with sustainable, locally sourced wood products we use every day, and provide jobs in our rural communities.
- Supporting the private landowners who own 80% of Vermont’s forests and whose stewardship helps keep our landscape forested.
- Protecting forest health and all that forests give us: clean air and water, wildlife, wood products, foliage and tourism, places to recreate, and much more.
- Supporting outdoor recreation opportunities for everyone, reducing barriers to participation, connecting people to the outdoors, and supporting the related outdoor businesses that are so important to our economy.
- Making it easy to get outside and enjoy all that our state parks offer no matter where you live in VT.
To close, looking back isn’t very meaningful unless we also look ahead, and it’s impossible to look ahead without confronting the impacts of climate change in our state and beyond. Forests are at once vulnerable to climate change and also a critical means of mitigating climate change. In the coming decade we will continue to work to understand the impacts of climate change on our forests and to promote strong, healthy forests that benefit us in so many ways, including by mitigating climate change.
Fish and Wildlife Department
It has been an extraordinarily busy decade for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. From total re-writes of the deer, bear and bait fish regulations to a large increase in Department lands available for wildlife habitat and recreation, to the successful recovery of iconic species, biologists, ecologists, fish culturists and wardens have made Vermont’s landscape better, safer and richer in species, natural communities and recreational opportunities.
Working together, Department staff have improved Act 250 developments, mitigated impacts from energy projects, conducted rigorous and thorough studies on black bear, sturgeon, moose and more. We have seen perhaps the first natural reproduction by landlocked salmon in over a century in some Vermont rivers, and reaffirmed the principle that wildlife is a public trust.
Wardens have knocked down doors in major poaching cases, and pulled people from icy waters. If you were lost in the woods, or had an accident while recreating in the backcountry, there is a good chance the man or woman who reached you first was wearing a badge that said “since 1904” at the bottom.
The Department has significantly reduced its use of fuel and electricity and increased its output of its own renewable energy, in an initiative led by fish hatchery staff and leadership. We have instituted online license sales of various kinds, improving service for customers and reducing costs for the Department. Most important of all, we have continued to live by our mission of conserving all species for all Vermonters using scientific management and in partnership with those who love wildlife and wildlife recreation.
The below list is far from complete, but highlights some Department accomplishments of the 2010s!
- Publication of Wetland, Woodland, Wildland, a guide to the natural communities of Vermont.
- Successful recovery of bald eagles in VT and along its borders in NY and NH; with 34 known nesting pairs producing at least 47 successful young according to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. The endangered species is doing so well it is being considered for down listing to threatened in Vermont.
- Just a year ago, the state threatened spiny softshell turtle had its best nesting outcome so far. The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department documented 1,311 hatchling turtles from 93 nests.
- Each fall, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department host an annual fall workday to prepare turtle nesting beaches for next spring nesting season. Usually over 60 volunteers helped prepare three nesting beaches for the new year. Not only was valuable work accomplished, but the time volunteers donated was used to help meet match requirements for the State Wildlife Grant from the US Fish & Wildlife Service that funds turtle conservation in Vermont.
- Departments voluntary habitat stamp continues to grow, allowing additional land purchases, and enabling on the ground wildlife habitat improvements and partnerships with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps and Vermont Audubon.
- In partnership with the Northwoods Stewardship center, the department completed a new wildlife watching boardwalk in Moose Bog at Wenlock Wildlife Management Area. This is a popular area for bird watchers because it supports unique boreal habitat conditions for birds such as spruce grouse, gray jay, boreal chickadee and black-backed woodpeckers.
- The department continues to get more than 1,000 visitors at its visitor center at Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area. This has quickly become a popular destination for bird watchers, hunters, and resident wildlife enthusiasts, including local school groups, as well as convenient stopover for people travel back and forth between New York and Vermont.
- Continued research in collaboration with the University of Vermont on the status of moose in Vermont and the effects of climate change and winter ticks on the species.
- Continue to annually provide over 3.5 million servings of local wild game to Vermonters.
- Completed a suite of new deer hunting regulations to improve the health of Vermont’s deer herd and forest ecosystems.
- Extra efforts to work with VTrans, Ag and Health agencies to work together to protect wildlife and human health on highways, Wildlife diseases and animals that affects Ag and Vt wildlife, and Lyme disease.
- Near completion of a new 2020-2030 Vermont Big Game Plan. Several public meetings and stakeholder meetings, along with a detailed public and hunter survey conducted to match scientific management decisions with public goals.
- Scientific social survey (Duda) showed VT hunter satisfaction rates at 66% for moose, 70% for deer, 76% for black bear, and 94% for wild turkey, rivaling any other state surveys for satisfaction.
- Worked with communities and citizens statewide to address hundreds of bear conflicts without serious human injuries, increased credibility, and collaboration with wardens, municipal police, and Vermonters.
- The Bear-Wind study continued to collect information on bear movements, behavior, and causes of mortality in Southern Vermont.
- Passed a regulation improving the management and reporting of nuisance furbearers taken by persons getting compensation.
- Completed a comprehensive report on coyotes in Vermont.
- Initiated a winter tick lab research project at UVM
- Added 8 new Wildlife Management Areas, bringing the total to 99 WMAs. Acquired 7,713.15 acres over the last decade in fee and acquired 1,829.73 acres in conservation easement.
Law Enforcement Division
- Founded the K9 Team and strategically placed four units around the state charged with finding lost Vermonters, tracking suspects, recovering evidence and breaching the gap between the public and the uniform.
- Founded the Member Assistance program. The program now exists and is in use for supporting the mental health of our State Game Wardens.
- Both command staff and field wardens have engaged successfully in improving training and awareness of the importance of fair and impartial policing, and have gained a seat at the table in these discussions in the state.
- Senior Warden Jeff Whipple is the Vice President of the National Association for Operation Game Thief and, with assistance from his fellow wardens, built and manages Vermont’s OGT trailer, a mobile display used for education and poaching deterrence
- Countless major cases have been managed, solved and adjudicated including the Dion Case, the Orleans Moose case, Operation Panfish Plunder, and two recent Federal felony cases.
- Wardens have overseen the reactivation of 600+ convicted poachers through face-to-face class work and counseling.
- Wardens have personally certified thousands of new trappers and hunters.
- Vermont Wardens are constantly on the landscape, providing education and Conservation Law Enforcement which relates directly to license funding.
- Wardens are on the ground at every search and rescue, and are both participatnts and leaders in these operations, particularly when in remote areas and difficult terrain.
- Wardens have also become leaders in resolving boating related offenses and offering boater assistance. Over the last decade, wardens have become even more relied on than for recreational law enforcement related to ATVs and snowmobiles and Search and Rescue than at any time in Vermont history.
Outreach and Education Division
- Continued camps and teachers course (53 years and 33 years).
- Built the new Buck Lake Education Center
- Brought Lets Go Fishing into the department and have doubled number of participants, began advanced clinics, created the tote loaner program, and made partnerships with organizations focusing on underserved audiences and local food and fish processing and cooking.
- Hunter education has started advanced seminars and created partnerships with organizations representing underserved audiences and local food and wild game promotion
- Initiated the Learn to Hunt program for new adult hunters.
- Acquired Bonsawino WMA, expanding the Kehoe Conservation Camp campus to 395 acres and preserving valuable outdoor opportunities for campers there.
- Department partnership with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and Rooted in Vermont that has resulted in Pint Nights and Storytelling events throughout the state.
- Began a Podcast series.
- Worked with Wildlife Division staff to build Dead Creek Visitors Center.
- Integrating Abenaki culture into The Green Mountain Conservation Camps through storytelling by Chief Don Stevens during advanced camp and in the Dead Creek festival (and we have plans to integrate Abenaki plants and a wigwam at the DCVC interpretive trail as well as have him tell campfire stories at the Wildlife Mgmt Course Part 2)
- Vermont has become a leader nationally in implementing Aquatic Organism Passage at road crossings in conjunction with VTrans.
- Increasing numbers of young lake sturgeon are being found in Lake Champlain as documented by F&W and UVM researchers, and seen by anglers.
- Increasing natural reproduction of lake trout in Lake Champlain after almost 50 years of restoration efforts.
- Successful sea lamprey control program on Lake Champlain is resulting in more and larger lake trout and salmon than have been seen since the 1800s.
- Multiple dam removals to reconnect habitat and restore natural river processes.
- A comprehensive survey of trout streams documented that brook trout populations are as abundant and healthy now as they were 50 years ago.
- Rebuilding of the Roxbury FCS that was washed out by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011
- Added 24 Fishing Access Areas in Vermont. Replaced 55 boat ramps were replaced, upgraded, or constructed, 38 new docks were purchased and installed around the state and 6 new accessible fishing platforms were constructed.
- Fish Hatcheries oversaw a massive energy efficiency and renewable energy campaign. This effort to reduce energy use and produce our own power has led to huge savings in money and greenhouse gas emissions. Vermont’s fish culture stations are poised to be the first such system in the country to produce all of their own electricity, and fuel use has been reduced substantially.
Business and Licensing Division
- Created web-based module for individuals to purchase licenses. In 2019, 63% of all items sold through license system were via this method.
- Created online module for license agents to sell to customers saving time, money and effort for both the Department and local vendors.
- Transitioned to paperless antlerless deer permit application system.
- Reduced tons of paper through the above effort and 3rd party contracts. Saved $105,000 after full implementation.
- Created hunting, fishing, trapping license gift certificate module.
Department of Environmental Conservation
As we begin our next decade of work at the Department of Environmental Conservation, we’re committed to helping communities grow while protecting the natural resources that we value and that we all depend upon.
Over the last decade we’ve implemented landmark environmental legislation to protect our lakes and rivers, to improve the safety of our dams, and to respond to the work of a generation - redesigning our infrastructure to capture rainwater and runoff to ensure that clean water can be enjoyed by all.
To meet these goals we are committed to engaging with communities and with applicants to help them understand their obligations and ours, to working with towns, developers and individuals to engage in this shared process of investing in, developing and providing services to Vermonters while protecting the natural resources of Vermont.
Here are a few highlights:
Vermonters are breathing cleaner air and enjoying clearer views of our beautiful mountains, valleys, and waterways over the last decade thanks to efforts to reduce emissions in Vermont and across the region.
More than 85% of our rivers and lakes now meet the water quality standards we require for swimming, fishing and floating to make the most of our hot summer days.
Of our 1,400 community drinking water systems (more than 70% are run by volunteers), 98% of meet all of Vermont’s health standards
Since the passage of Act 64 Vermont’s landmark clean water act, we have invested $138 million in clean water projects across Vermont to reduce phosphorous pollution and pursue our clean water goals.