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Vermont Public’s weekly dose of all things environment.

Out There: Fire for wildlife

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, June 13. Here’s what’s on deck:

  • A report card for Lake Champlain
  • A furry pink and yellow moth
  • Hot air balloon festival

But first,

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Vermont Public's biweekly dose of all things environment.

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Burning on purpose

Three people in bright yellow jackets and red helmets stand in a field, where a fire begins to burn and smoke in the center.
Photo by Lexi Krupp (Vermont Public)
/
Illustration by Sophie Stephens (Vermont Public)
In April, firefighters burned 13 acres at an old farm in Ripton, now part of the Green Mountain National Forest. This site hadn’t had a prescribed burn before, while other managed sites have burned many times over the years.

For decades, staff from the U.S. Forest Service have gone out in the woods of Vermont each spring wearing fire-proof boots and carrying bags filled with water on their backs. Their goal is to set fire in a contained area. To prepare the site, crews use leaf blowers and hand tools to get rid of anything that could easily burn around the perimeter. Then, they light a thin line of fire, called black lining, that acts as a break to keep fire on one side, and not the other. Crews walk the edge of the area, lighting fire and monitoring the line with water. Here’s why they go through all this effort:

🐝🦎 The fires are primarily meant to provide habitat for wildlife by creating areas where the sun can hit the ground for pollinators, grassland birds, and basking reptiles. Prescribed burns often are done in landscapes that have already been altered by people, like old farms or the site of former timber harvests.

🌲 Woods in Vermont are generally not fire-prone, like the boreal forests of Quebec, which burn every summer and experienced a record-breaking fire season last year. Still, some fire managers think these prescribed burns could help prevent unwanted forest fires down the line, especially in the face of increasing drought.

🔥 There are some pockets of fire and drought-adapted forests in Vermont – pitch pine and oak trees that have evolved to live with fire. Biologists say these areas are shrinking and are important to preserve by keeping fire on the landscape. The Forest Service is still mapping these forests in the state and might target more of these areas for prescribed burns in the future.

In other news

🌊 Water quality is mostly ‘fair’ in Lake Champlain: That’s according to a report put out last week by the Lake Champlain Basin Program. It says water quality has largely recovered from last year's flooding but phosphorus levels are still high in much of the lake. That feeds cyanobacteria blooms, the culprits behind summer beach closures, along with warm, calm water.

🧑‍🔬 Fewer chemicals in makeup, diapers, menstrual products and cookware: Starting in 2026, manufacturers will not be allowed to sell a range of products if they contain PFAS, also known as forever chemicals. A new law targets manufacturers, not retailers, and could require them to disclose ingredients in their products.

🕷️ The other tick-borne illness on the rise, this one with new treatments: It’s called babesioisis (“buh-BEE-zee-oh-sis”) and the CDC reported a recent increase in Vermont casesfrom two to several dozen between 2011 and 2019. The disease targets red blood cells and can cause feverish symptoms and sometimes severe illness. A small case study showed evidence that using an anti-malaria drug, along with a combination of other drugs, can decrease the infection in the bloodstream and mitigate symptoms. A clinical trial will take place this summer.

☀️📉 Less money back for rooftop solar: Starting in August, electric customers with solar panels installed through the state’s net metering program won’t get as much credit back from utility companies for the power they provide. That’s been a big draw to get more people to opt into small-scale solar. But state regulators say the program is too expensive and the move will save $1 million a year in electricity rate costs.

In your backyard

A drawing of a yellow and pink colored winged insect on a dark gray-brown background.
Laura Nakasaka
/
Vermont Public
These moths are found in most parts of the state. Males have bushier antennae to help them sense the chemicals females release at night. Notes compiled from Vermont Center for Ecostudies and Naturally Curious by Mary Holland.

Get out there

👙🏊 Swimming season: There’s a handy map maintained by the Connecticut River Conservancy that lists a bunch of popular swim spots in southern Vermont with directions and whether the water quality is good enough for swimming and boating based on E. coli counts. Data hasn't been collected yet this year at many of the sites, but historic information is available.

🎈🎶 Hot air balloon festival in Quechee: Every summer for more than 40 years, giant rainbow-colored balloons fill the sky along the Ottauquechee River. There are balloon rides in the early mornings and evenings all weekend, contingent on weather, along with food trucks, magicians, belly dancers, fire performers, and lots of music. Friday evening, June 14 through Sunday evening, June 16. Weekend pass is $20 for adults.

🪨 A history in granite, marble and slate: A new exhibit at the Bennington Museum looks at the mining and quarrying industry in the state, of everything from asbestos to talc to iron. The museum will also have an orange grossular garnet on display from a quarry in the NEK. Exhibit opens June 20. Admission is $15 for adults.

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

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Thank you for reading! Don’t hesitate to reach out, we'd love to hear from you. Just email us.

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

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