Each VMN participant works on a project with other team members advancing conservation education or stewardship in their town to complete their master naturalist training. Projects fall into eight major categories: wildlife monitoring, riparian restoration, natural area inventory and assessment, pollinator habitat and native plant landscaping, invasive plant and animal management, school programs, nature art events, and public natural history walks. The projects serve as a window into the world of conservation in each town. The lasting impacts of these projects ripple far into the future as VMN graduates join their conservation commissions, continue to plant trees, and stay engaged in other long-term efforts.
“The Vermont Master Naturalist Program in Williston established a cadre of local citizens who are engaging in activities such as leading public walks, stewarding streamside plantings, inventorying invasive plants on town natural areas, and helping to spread the word about pollinator-friendly landscaping practices. It is the sense of place that VMN cultivates that has increased public participation not only in conservation issues, but in broader town planning as well.” Melinda Scott, Conservation Planner, Town of Williston, 2019.
Vermont Master Naturalist (VMN) teams partnered with the Burlington Mammal Tracking Project (https://www.trackingvt.org/) to monitor wildlife corridors in Burlington and South Burlington. Since its start in 2015, the Mammal Tracking Project has collected over 1,000 observations of how fox, fisher, bobcat, coyote, otter and seven other large mammals are using habitat and travel corridors in the Champlain Valley. These data are crucial advocacy tool for city planners, local conservation organizations, and the general public for making decisions with wildlife in mind.
The Mammal Tracking Project relies on community science data from the online smartphone app called iNaturalist. Though this is a powerful way to engage local wildlife enthusiasts in local conservation, data entered into iNaturalist need to be carefully annotated and verified by other expert trackers. The VMN team in Burlington invited the public to a tracking walk at Valley Ridge and followed that trip with an iNaturalist training. Valley Ridge is a currently undeveloped 18-acre natural area with riparian floodplain forest along the Winooski River in Burlington and South Burlington. It is a vital wildlife corridor that allows mobility up and down the Winooski River without having to cross Interstate 89. Participants visited this area with a tracking expert and then received hands-on training on how to enter observations into the Burlington Mammal Tracking Project’s iNaturalist page (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/burlington-vt-mammal-tracking). The VMN teams hope this activity will encourage participants to learn more about mammal activity in their backyard and to support their project as it grows and expands into neighboring towns. A VMN Bristol 5 Town team is also conducting a wildlife corridor project in Monkton and a VMN Richmond team is monitoring wildlife in the new Andrews Community Forest. VMN South Burlington worked on a wildlife corridor project to inform city planners. Map courtesy of Sophie Mazowita.
Mad River Valley
The VMN Mad River Valley team received a special commendation from the Waitsfield Conservation Commission for the “terrific work” on the Austin Parcel. The VMN team planted over 70 trees and shrub in 2020. “Your efforts made it possible to both build on the good work accomplished in previous years and learn more about the floodplain forest and invasive species management on this important property.” Phil Huffman, Chair, Waitsfield Conservation Commission, 2020.
The town has been working with landowners and partner organizations on riparian restoration along major streams, planting riparian buffers along the Allen Brook and the Muddy Brook. There are now several established riparian planting sites in Williston. These sites need continued monitoring and stewardship, and the town would like to establish new plantings, especially along the Muddy Brook. A VMN team organized volunteer riparian stewardship work days, to assess the condition of stream planting sites and remove and dispose of plastic tree tubes and mats no longer needed. A VMN team also worked on riparian restoration in Richmond to reinforce the riverbank itself to minimize erosion in a manner that met community esthetic, financial and ecological considerations.
Pollinator and Native Plant Habitat
For the Vermont Master Naturalist Pollinator Project, team members collaborated with Burlington Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront to achieve a Bee City USA designation for Burlington. The goals are to enhance pollinator habitat and raise awareness about the role of pollinators in urban environments. The Pollinator Project tasks were to prepare the Bee City USA application, draft the resolution adopted by City Council on April 29th and host a table to celebrate the accomplishment at Kids Day on May 11th, 2019. Over 200 kids visited the table to make balls out of clay, compost and seeds from native annuals to plant in their gardens and yards. In 2020, a VMN team in Burlington expanded this work under an initiative called Grow Wild to include a native tree and perennial plant nursery. BPRW will grow native trees and plants to share with residents who want to plant them in local yards. A VMN team is also working on enhancing pollinator habitat in Williston.
A VMN team created a school program in Starksboro based on Larry Montague’s workshop: “Hip Hop Will Save the Planet.” In his experience leading the workshops, Larry has found that the majority of young people (regardless of gender, race, location and demographic) identify with hip-hop culture in some way. Because of this, Larry believes that by combining science and art and allowing the kids to express themselves through music, dance, art, and spoken word will foster better connections and a deeper relationship to their natural world. In Starksboro, a VMN team explored hip-hop’s role in nature education by combining tracking, music, poetry and art into a school-wide performance. Hip hop developed out of the Bronx, NY, into a global force whose reach can be found in just about every facet of modern society. Most relevant to future climate action is the fact that young people—the future leaders of our world—listen to its music, emulate its styles, and speak its language. Given this widespread influence, young people have an incredible opportunity to deliver positive messaging to the masses. VMN is also running school programs and projects in Burlington, South Hero, and Richmond.
To celebrate the purchase of the Catamount Community Forest, the Vermont Master Naturalists of Williston sponsored a walk series held the second Saturday of each month from July to November 2019 at the Catamount Community Forest. Walk topics included a forest dynamics, invasive species, wildlife, geology and settlement history. Other VMN towns are also offering public walks throughout the year.
Burlington Wild! Art Hop Workshops and Storytelling Event
This VMN project team in partnership with Burlington Parks, Recreation and Waterfront will host a series of summer workshops to create art for an Art Hop event on September 6, 7, and 8th. The art show celebrates the wild places of Burlington. Part I: In the summer, members of this team will organize a series of artistic workshops celebrating Burlington’s natural landscapes. Past workshops have focused on photography, poetry, watercolor painting and botanical drawing.
Part II: In the fall, the team will curate an Art Hop Show at Evolution Yoga. The art show will feature work by the participants in the summer workshops and other Burlington residents who have created artwork about how the parks, urban wilds, and nature of Burlington inspire them. We hope their work inspires others to draw, write about, and take photos of their favorite wild places. In past years, the event culminated in an afternoon of storytelling called Wild Burlington! This will be the third successful year of this project.
Invasive plant and animal management
The distribution of invasive plants in Mud Pond Conservation Area has become extensive and ecologically problematic. The Town of Williston considers Mud Pond Conservation Area as a high conservation priority due to its location within the rapidly developing Chittenden County, as well as the fact that it contains a sensitive peat bog ecosystem as well as fragile and ecologically significant wetlands. Creation of an invasive management plan will help characterize the distribution, establishment, and size of patches of invasive plants such as both common and glossy buckthorn, honeysuckle, barberry, and bittersweet. The plan will also include GPS-referenced photos of each patch, strategies for removal, as well as maps of the patches that are highest priority for removal because the plants present are older than the reproductive age for that species of invasive. VMN also has teams working on Emerald Ash Borer response planning in South Hero and Richmond.
Natural Resource Inventories
The Beaver Meadows wetland is a unique ecological gem in our community that is both visually stunning and provides habitat for rare flora and fauna. It is located at the intersection of Bristol, Ripton, and Middlebury in the Green Mountain National Forest, yet is unknown to all but a handful of people. The Bristol Trail Network (BTN) would like to make the Beaver Meadows a more accessible destination for nature enthusiasts and hikers, but they need help to make this vision a reality. The road leading to the wetland is difficult to traverse, the wetlands themselves can be hazardous (and well, wet!), and there are no well-publicized trails. To change this, the BTN has asked a Vermont Master Naturalist team to conduct a preliminary study to explore the Beaver Meadows. The final report would consist of the team’s recommendations for a hiking trail at the Beaver Meadows based on information gathered from VT Fish and Wildlife experts, the Forest Service, local knowledge, and maps of potential trail locations based on the team’s exploration of the area. This information will be used by the BTN leaders (and any interested Vermont Master Naturalists) to apply for trail building grants and begin working with the BTN trail building volunteers. VMN natural resource inventory projects are also underway in Richmond and South Burlington.
In the spring of 2019, five UVM students in Zac Ispa-Landa’s Environmental Problem Solving and Impact Assessment course (NR206) worked with VMN to document some of the 25 projects running at that time. A representative sample of those projects is showcased above. Thank you (from left to right) Annie Barkan, Alison Davis, Jessica Savage, Cassidy Motahari and Amanda Duffy (not pictured) for all of your hard work and creativity on this and on the documentary featured on our home page (photo by Cheryl Dorschner.)
Wildlife monitoring photo by Chelsea Smiley; pollinator photo by Jessa Mason; forest walk photo by Terry Marron; Burlington Wild! photo by Elise Schadler; black bear and cubs photo by USDA; tree planting photo by Curt Lind berg. All other photos by the UVM team above.