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Vermont Public’s weekly dose of all things environment.

Out There: Ticks taking over

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 27. Here’s what’s on deck:

  • A rare six-foot long black snake
  • A bear in a hammock
  • Many options for learning to fish

But first,

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


More ticks, more problems

A photo of someone in a white hazmat suit facing away from the camera and dragging a white item behind. They walk into a forest which has been shaded blue, and a photo of a tick has been pasted repeatedly over top.
Photo by Lexi Krupp (Vermont Public) / Illustration by Sophie Stephens (Vermont Public)
In recent decades, tick populations have boomed in Vermont, as have tick-borne diseases like Lyme. Scientists say climate change is only one factor driving the expansion of their range.

Thirty years ago, Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses were rare in Vermont, with only a dozen or so cases a year. Now over a thousand Vermonters are diagnosed with tick-borne illnesses each year, with new cases reported every month, from every county. The uptick in disease is because there are more ticks, especially black-legged ticks, or deer ticks, that harbor all sorts of pathogens. Climate change plays a big role in their expansion, but it’s only one piece of the story.

🌡️ Warmer winters: Vermont sees about a week more freeze-free days than it did in the 1970s, and the growing season is getting longer every decade. That makes it easier for black-legged ticks to find hosts to feed on at critical stages of their life cycle in the spring and fall.

🐁 More mice and other rodents: Black-legged ticks aren’t choosy about their hosts and will happily feed on most mammals. But they’re more likely to survive on small rodents like chipmunks, white-footed mice and shrews. Mice in particular are most likely to infect ticks with pathogens like the one that causes Lyme disease, and mice flourish as humans develop natural areas.

🏘️ Less biodiversity: While total forest cover in Vermont has increased in recent decades, our forests are more fragmented because of development, road construction, and land clearing. Smaller patches of forest mean less biodiversity, and predators, like bobcats, foxes, weasels and owls that help regulate mice populations. And with fewer species around, like ground-dwelling birds or lizards, it’s more likely that a tick will find a mouse as a host, and pick up diseases that can sicken people.

👖🚿 Stay safe: In our increasingly tick-filled world, public health experts say to avoid areas where ticks live if you can, wear protective clothing and use EPA-approved insect repellents. Check yourself and your clothes every time you spend time outdoors, consider putting your clothing in the dryer on high for 10 minutes when you come inside, and take a shower soon after being outdoors.

In other news

🐍 A large, black snake: State biologists say this spring is the first time they’ve seen a northern black racer state in Vermont in a decade, after managing land with the species in mind by building snake dens and keeping land open. Some locals in southern Vermont disagree – they say they’ve spotted black racers in recent years. The species can grow up to six feet long. They have smooth, dark scales and swallow their prey alive.

🏖️ Fewer beach closures in Burlington: The city is changing its protocols for cyanobacteria blooms: beaches will now stay open during small blooms, when signs will go up to let people know the risks of swimming. Public health officials still encourage families to keep young children and pets out of the water — they’re most likely to stay near the shoreline in the warm waters where cyanobacteria thrive.

🐻 A bear sitting in a hammock: A Waitsfield man captured a video of two young black bears in his yard, one in a hammock, who stayed put after he yelled at them. Wildlife officials say that's part of a bigger problem: So far this year, over 400 bear incidents have come in from nearly every town in the state, including bears destroying property or acting aggressively. The bear population has been fairly stable in Vermont, but bears are increasingly associating people's homes with food.

🧯 A PFAS spill at an aircraft hanger: Last week, hundreds gallons of a concentrated firefighting foam filled with PFAS chemicals leaked over the floor of a Vermont Army National Guard facility in South Burlington. It appears only 150 gallons got into the town’s wastewater system, and potentially the Winooski River. Officials are still figuring out how to dispose of the toxic, cancer-causing material.

In your backyard

A drawing of a light brown pine cone, with greenery and a light yellow and blue background, and dark colored text over top.
Laura Nakasaka
Vermont Public
Male cones fall off pine trees by July and quickly disintegrate, while the (female) seed cones last much longer. Notes compiled from Naturally Curious by Mary Holland.

Get out there

🎣 Learn to fish: The Fish & Wildlife Department is hosting a series of introductory fishing clinics throughout the state that will cover knot tying, casting, fishing regulations and fish ecology. Free, and open to all ages but registration is required.

🐟🐟 Even more fishing: A festival in Enosburg Falls along the Missisquoi River will feature some of the same activities: casting, knot and fly tying, fish ecology, and fishing practice. No fishing experience required. Saturday, June 29 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.

🏊 Before you swim: The state Department of Health keeps an updated map to track cyanobacteria conditions based on recent reports. They caution that conditions change rapidly, and the map can't tell you what the conditions are currently at your favorite swimming area, only what’s been last reported.

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


Out There has been hitting your inbox for over a year! If you think this newsletter is great, we'd love your help spreading the word. If you have three friends who might like it, forward this email to them! As a thank you, we'll send you three postcards of original artwork created by Laura Nakasaka that you might recognize from past editions. Just email us with your name and address, and we’ll mail them to you.

Credits: This week’s edition was put together by Lexi Krupp 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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