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Vermont Public’s weekly dose of all things environment.

Out There: Forest experiments 🔬🌲

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 Friday, December 1. Here’s what’s on deck:

  • Wet, heavy snow
  • A big biogas decision 
  • Glowing pink possums

But first,

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Vermont Public's biweekly dose of all things environment.


Getting to old forests faster

A photo looking up towards the sky in a forest, with a black and white filter
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
An experimental plot at the Catamount Community Forest in Williston, a former dairy farm. There, foresters are cutting down small trees to create gaps in the canopy, and leaving the dead wood on the forest floor.

Almost all of Vermont’s forests were cut down by the 1800s and 1900s. A lot of the woods that have grown up since are around the same age and species, and tightly packed together. These young, uniform forests are more vulnerable to bugs, disease and natural disasters. All these threats are increasing as climate change brings warmer, wetter and more extreme weather to the region.

In some places though, foresters are trying to actively manage the land for old forest characteristics – with fewer, bigger trees, gaps in the canopy, and more standing dead trees and dead wood on the ground. But it’s not always possible to recreate those conditions quickly. Here are some of the strategies land managers are trying:

🪓 Cut down small trees to make room for bigger trees to grow faster. That mimics a natural disturbance, like a wind storm that would knock trees down, and leaves cut trees to decompose on the ground.

🌱 Plant climate-adaptive species, like red oak: Pests like emerald ash borer and the insect behind beech bark disease have already made their way into the state. It’s likely many of Vermont's beech and ash trees will die off in the coming decades. Not all tree species are as vulnerable to these types of diseases.

🕰️ Give forests time: Some elements of old forests like the fungi and soil structure can’t be easily replicated. Some environment groups say one way to encourage those things is to conserve the land and walk away.

In other news

🔦 A snow storm Monday wreaked havoc on power lines: It caused over 30,000 outages at its peak – one of the most damaging of any snow storm in recent years. That’s after a record year for damages to the grid after two separate snow storms last winter left even more people without power. A common theme behind all these storms is heavy, wet snow. It’s weather that’s becoming increasingly common as climate change brings warmer winters and more extreme precipitation to the region, and less reliably cold temperatures.

🪵 A Burlington biogas plant could get a big new customer: After a recent decision by the city council, the plant is one step closer to supplying heat to the state’s largest hospital, the University of Vermont Medical Center. A $42 million plan to pipe excess heat from the plant would slash the hospital’s reliance on natural gas that comes from plants in southern New England. But there’s been a lot of debate about the environmental benefits of the project, and it has more regulatory hurdles, including an Act 250 review, before it’s a done deal.

🌡️ Forecast for a warmer-than-average winter: That comes from NOAA, where scientists say climate change as well as El Niño (a normal cycle of warming in the Pacific ocean) will lead to a warmer-than-usual winter in the Northeast this year. This comes as Vermont has had record warm temperatures in recent months.

In your backyard

A drawing of a opossum, with text on top
Laura Nakasaka
Vermont Public
Possums have unusual features, like opposable, clawless thumbs on their back feet, tails that can carry small objects or grab onto branches and 13 nipples, arranged in a circle. In some ways, they’re ill-adapted to cold Vermont winters.

Get out there

🎄 Cut your own Xmas tree: You can get a permit from Green Mountain National Forest to chop down a tree that’s under 20 feet tall. Permits are $5, unless you’re in fourth grade, then you can get one for free. Permits are available online or at the Manchester and Rochester ranger stations.

📒 Break out your field notebook: A nature journaling club meets once a month at the North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier on Saturday mornings, starting Dec. 9 at 10 a.m. Organizers say to bring your own journal, and any level of experience is welcome.

🏳️‍🌈🥾 A winter pride hike: Also at the North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier, is a monthly gathering geared towards LGBTQ+ hikers. The group will cover just over a mile on mostly wide, flat trails. If there’s enough snow, they’ll snowshoe. Meet Saturday, Dec. 9 at 1 p.m.

❄️ Advice for your next winter hike: The Green Mountain Club is hosting an in-person workshop where they’ll go over clothing, gear and navigation for backcountry travel in the winter. Bring your own equipment if you have questions about it. Meet in Waterbury Center Saturday, Dec. 9 at 10 a.m. If you can’t make it, they have recordings available of past talks.

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


Thank you for reading! If you have ideas for creatures we should feature, events you think we should know about, or any other feedback, we'd love to hear from you. Just email us.

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

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