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Vermont Public’s weekly dose of all things environment.

Out There: Tree magic 🦄🌳🌈

This is the web version of our email newsletter, Out There! Sign up to get our weekly dose of all things environment — from creatures you might encounter on your next stroll, to a critical look at the state's energy transition, plus ways to take part in community science and a roundup of local outdoor events.

It’s Thursday, Oct. 5. Here’s what’s on deck:

  • Outsized carbon pollution
  • The bats mating at a superfund site
  • Partial solar eclipse

But first,

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Vermont Public's biweekly dose of all things environment.


Peak leaf peeping

A birds-eye-view drone shot of Vermont fall foliage: trees in shades of green, red, yellow and orange.
Kyle Ambusk
Vermont Public
Drone footage taken near Jay Peak the week of Oct. 2.

Right now, the state’s trees are putting on a show. And for all the attention it gets, fall foliage is a bit of a mystery to scientists. Every year, they never know exactly how it's going to play out because of variables like rainfall and temperature. We turned to forest ecologist Bill Keeton, from the University of Vermont to learn more.

🕰️ How do trees know it’s time to drop their leaves?

  • the length of daylight 
  • the difference between daytime and nighttime temps 

Trees start shutting down when “we still have warm days, but the night times are getting cool and crisp, but still above freezing,” Keeton said.

🍂 What’s behind the colors? As trees get ready for winter, they absorb energy reserves from their leaves and store it in their roots.

  • 💚 “The chlorophyll in leaves, which makes them appear green to us, begins to degrade and to break down, and it reveals these other chemicals that have also been in the leaf all summer long, but have been invisible to our eyes.” 
  • 💛 Chemicals called flavonoids and carotenoids produce yellows and oranges.
  • ❤️ Some trees produce another group of chemicals called anthocyanins. These give us the deep reds and purples in species like maples and oaks.

👑 Why Vermont has such great fall foliage:

  • Tree diversity: “We have so many different species, and they grow in all different combinations across the landscape. That gives us the full array of color combinations and potentials. 
  • Topography: “Up higher, we'll get the foliage earlier. And the places down low, where the nighttimes remain warm longer, we’ll get the foliage a little bit later.”

📓 What factors influence the foliage season:

  • 🥵 Drought. In really dry years, you see less colorful leaves and trees drop their leaves earlier.
  • 🚿 In wet years, saturated soils stress trees and their ability to produce colors. This fall, Keeton says there’s been more early browning of leaves, and trees are dropping leaves earlier than normal.
  • 🤒 Rainy, wet conditions can also spread tree diseases. Black splotches or patches on leaves - that’s fungus. 

🌍 How climate change is impacting Vermont’s foliage season:

  • #1: Extreme climate conditions like drought, or too much rain are stressful, causing trees to drop their leaves early and dampen or mute the overall intensity of the color on the landscape. 
  • #2: Our falls are warmer, longer. Even though trees have dropped leaves early, in some cases, the actual reveal of this color is coming later and later. 

"So, the arrival of the foliage season seems to be coming later. What that means is that climate change compresses the overall length of the fall foliage season.”

🍁 Go peep some leaves:

  • 🗺️ The state provides foliage forecasts here. Yankee Magazinetracks all of New England. And this map shows the whole country. 
  • 🗼See peak foliage from a peak: Vermont has 13 fire towers that are open to the public, of nearly 40 that were built here in the early 1900s.
  • ✨We also asked the Vermont Public staff for recs. Here's what they said: 

    • App Gap on Route 17 and Lincoln Gap Road
    • Drive up the Stowe Toll Road “with a beautiful, non-arduous, 3-mile hiking loop at the top of Mansfield with amazing views”
    • Aldis Hill Park at Hard'ack in Saint Albans
    • The Cantilever Rock Trail near Underhill
    • The Pinnacle in Westminster

In other news

🥈 The second-highest climate polluter in New England (per capita)? Our brave little state. Vermont is behind only NH and PA in leading carbon emissions per person throughout the northeast. That’s largely because of the long distances Vermonters drive and the carbon-intensive heating fuels they use – particularly fuel oil and propane. The state is legally required to change this ranking going forward, thanks to a law setting statewide emission standards in line with the Paris Agreement. Recent modeling suggests the state might meet its 2025 requirements, but 2030 isn’t looking so good.

💸 Momentum to divest from fossil fuel investments: Lawmakers have been toying with the idea of divesting Vermont’s pension fund from fossil fuel companies for years. Now a plan has the support of the state treasurer, and a bill is making its way through the statehouse that could come to a vote next session. The proposal includes a long timeline – as far out as 2040.

🥵☔ The warmest it's been since 1891: That's the record the state broke this week when the Burlington airport hit 86 degrees Wednesday, and it’s now the all-time record high temperature for October in Vermont. This week, hot air traveled from the Southern U.S. also reaching Canada, which is still contending with record wildfires, including over a dozen currently burning in Quebec. Another record smashed? Vermont had its wettest summer – with over 21 inches of rain between June and August. Much of New England fared similarly.

🌾 4% of Vermont is wetlands: And most of that land is protected from development. That’s despite a SCOTUS ruling earlier this year that removed federal regulations protecting wetlands across the country, in a case that significantly narrowed the scope of the Clean Water Act. In Vermont, state law provides protection, but that’s not the case in every state.

In your backyard

A pen illustration of a bat in a notebook collaged with bat facts on post-it notes, all about the Eastern small-footed bat.
Laura Nakasaka
Vermont Public
Hundreds of these bats hibernate in an abandoned copper mine in Orange County – by far, the largest population in the state, according to state biologists.

Get out there

🦢 Party at Dead Creek: At the wildlife management area in Addison, state agencies and local wildlife groups are hosting a day of bird banding, soap carving, deer processing, and walks through the clay-rich forest on Saturday, Oct. 7. Activities run from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. This time of year, thousands of snow geese are also at the wildlife management area as a stopover on their journey south.

🥾 Take a hike: The Green Mountain Club is hosting five hikes along the Long Trail on Saturday, Oct. 7 that range from easy (and toddler friendly) to difficult. They set off between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Free to join and they’ll send out carpooling and hike details when you register.

😎 Catch a partial solar eclipse: It peaks Saturday, Oct. 14 just before 1:30 p.m. and lasts around two hours in total. The ECHO center in Burlington is hosting a viewing with the Vermont Astronomical Society and physics students at UVM. They'll demonstrate “a variety of sun-safe viewing techniques, including sun-oculars, telescope projections, and eclipse glasses" and livestream the full eclipse over the American Southwest. Admission is $18 for adults. Consider this a warm up for April.

🐢 Save the turtles: Every year, state biologists organize a beach clean up to help maintain nesting sites for turtles by clearing weeds and willows from the shore. You might find baby spiny softshell turtles, map turtles, painted turtles, and snapping turtles that are still underground, and biologists will bring hatchling turtles that were raised in captivity. Meet at North Hero State Park Saturday, Oct. 14 at 10 a.m.

🏞️ Jay Peak film fest: The Wild & Scenic Film Festival has stories from all over the country world, featuring plenty of animals, beautiful landscapes as well as advocacy, science, restoration work and more. Films start at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14. Admission is $15. The evening before, on Friday, Oct. 13 is a free screening of a film about Lake Champlain at 8:30 p.m. with a Q+A with the filmmaker.

Enter your email to sign up for Out There
Vermont Public's biweekly dose of all things environment.


Thanks for reading! If you have ideas for events we should feature, critters, fungi or plants you want to learn more about, or other feedback, we'd love to hear from you! Just email us.

Credits: This week’s edition was put together by Brittany Patterson and Lexi Krupp with lots of help from the Vermont Public team, including graphics by Laura Nakasaka.

Corrected: October 5, 2023 at 1:16 PM EDT
We updated the cartoon to reflect that eastern small-footed bats are threatened in the state, not endangered.
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