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Vermont Public’s weekly dose of all things environment.

Out There: A different kind of cemetery

This is the web version of our email newsletter, Out There! Sign up to get our bi-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. 19. Here’s what’s on deck:

  • A plan to end power outages
  • An electric plane factory 
  • Mushroom hunting

But first,

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Vermont Public's biweekly dose of all things environment.

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A first for natural burials in Vermont

Fallen leaves cover the ground. In the back, people stand near a ladder and shovel.
Lexi Krupp
/
Vermont Public
The Vermont Forest Cemetery covers 56 acres of forest in Roxbury along a branch of the White River. It opened in early October after the completion of a gravel road and a series of trails.

The first cemetery in Vermont solely dedicated to natural burials opened in Roxbury earlier this month and recently held its first burial. Another like it is set to open in Newfane. They’re the most recent additions to a list of dozens of cemeteries across the state that offer "natural burials" to encourage decomposition in the soil. At most cemeteries, natural burials take place year round, materials in the grave have to be biodegradable, and embalming, caskets and grave liners are not allowed. People have been buried this way forever – it was the norm in the U.S. before the Civil War, and is still the custom for many Jewish and Muslim burials. But the practice is new for a lot of cemeteries.

  • 📈 This is a huge change from just a couple of years ago. In 2015, natural burials were only allowed at five cemeteries across New England, according to a green burial advocacy group. Now, they’re offered at over 90 cemeteries in the region.
  • 📜 Part of that growth in Vermont is about politics:

    • A state law in 2015 made it easier for natural cemeteries to operate without having to follow the same rules as a conventional cemetery that require fencing or specify how graves are laid out. 
    • Another law went into effect two years later that allowed graves to be shallower than conventional burial depth – at a minimum of three and a half feet instead of five – closer to the more active layers of the soil. 
  • 🌱 People might choose natural burials for all sorts of reasons — as an alternative to the commercial death industry, to have a connection to a piece of land, as a spiritual practice, to have more agency in death. 
  • 🌎 There’s also an environmental piece: Natural burials put nutrients back in the soil and can be a way to conserve land. They don’t require the energy needed for cremations or the resources like metal and concrete used in many conventional burials.

In other news

💡 Outages are out, burying lines and batteries are in: Green Mountain Power laid out a vision for zero power outages for its customers by 2030 in a pitch to the state Public Utility Commission. They’re asking for $280 million over the next two years to bury utility lines underground (it’s gotten a lot cheaper), fortify lines with insulated cables to better withstand tree falls, and provide batteries for customers. If they get the green light, they plan to start work in central and southern Vermont next year. Their proposal comes after six major storms in the past year – the most the utility has ever seen.

🛩️ 300 all-electric aircrafts a year: That’s what will be pumped out of a huge net-zero manufacturing facility that just opened in South Burlington by 2027, according to BETA Technologies. They’re a fuel-free aviation company working to scale up production on an aircraft that’s big enough to hold six people (or three shipping pallets, since one of their first customers is UPS). They're already doing test flights across the region, and are building a network of charging stations along the East Coast.

🐻 Black bears are thriving: There’s an estimated 8,000 bears, give or take, in Vermont, found in nearly every town in the state, according to hunting data from last fall. That’s a five-year population high, and way up from the 1970s, when there were only a few thousand bears in Vermont. State biologists say this is a conservation success story thanks to land protections, hunting regulations, and public education to prevent human-bear conflicts.

🧹 Flood clean up hasn’t ended: This summer’s flooding sent thousands of pounds of trash, tires, trees, boulders and other debris into the state’s rivers. That’s kept towns busy clearing culverts, bridges and digging upstream waterways to ensure future floodwaters have a place to go. Since Tropical Storm Irene, the state has had more oversight over stream clean up projects to make sure the work doesn’t increase the speed of water or limit floodplain access.

In your backyard

A cartoon of a snow goose showing a white goose painted on a postcard with several facts.
Laura Nakasaka
/
Vermont Public
One of the most popular places to see hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of birds is at the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Addison. You can follow their entire annual migration with an interactive map from Audubon.

Get out there

🌲 Tour a climate resilient forest: A section of the Catamount Community Forest in Williston is part of a national research project testing out ways to help forests adapt to climate change. Learn how this relatively young patch of forest is being managed for old-growth qualities. Saturday, Oct. 21 at 1 p.m. Free.

🍄 Mushroom hunting: Mycologist Meg Madden is leading a walk through the woods where she’ll go over mushroom identification, how fungi fit into the broader ecosystem, and share tips for taking beautiful mushroom photos. Meet Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 9:30 a.m. in Huntington near the Green Mountain Audubon Center. Wear comfortable shoes and layers. Registration is $22, Audubon members get a discount.

👷 Living with beavers: These little engineers can have big impacts on their wetland homes, which can spill over and affect human infrastructure. To live in harmony with these creatures: enter the Beaver Deceiver. See one in action and speak with the inventor at the Brewster Uplands in Cambridge on Thursday, Oct. 26 from 4-6 p.m. Free.

🌞 A renewable energy celebration: The folks at Solarfest have been at it since 1995. This year, workshops from state representatives, authors and industry experts will cover the basics of solar and batteries, heat pumps, federal and state policies and more. The festival ends with musical performances starting at 4:30 p.m. until late. In Rutland on Sat, Oct. 28 all day. Workshops are $10, full day is $30.

👻 Halloween bike ride: For over a decade, hundreds of costumed cyclists have gathered in Burlington at the end of October to ride through the city and show off their Halloween finest. This year, depart at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 29. There will be a safety vehicle in the front and back of the ride, and a party at the end.

One last thing

A cartographer from Nova Scotia took data from NASA satellites and models to make a time lapse of the record-breaking wildfires and smoke plumes that spread across North America this year. The animation runs from May through early October and was recently featured in the Daybreak newsletter from Rob Gurwitt of Norwich.

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

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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 hit reply to this email.

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

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