Caring For One of Vermont’s Rarest Habitats

When the Community Takes Action, Great Things Happen

After the Ice Age, large fan-shaped deposits of sand, sometimes up to 40 feet deep, were left in areas like Colchester, Vermont, now home to the Pitch Pine Sandplain Forest. Originally perhaps Sandplain-photo--Howard-Oct09--CJB-(45) 5,000 acres in size, the Sandplain Forests were home to a very special mix of plants.

This unique collection of plants was dominated by the fire-resistant Pitch Pine tree—a tree that required occasional fires to combat the vigorous growth of other trees that would overshadow it. Lightning-sparked fires helped give the Pitch Pine, and the other plants and animals that rely on it, the ability to flourish.

Unfortunately the flat, fast-draining Sandplain areas were also places where people could easily build. As a result, very little of the original Sandplain Forests remain, with only an estimated 500 acres surviving in small pockets surrounded by development.

A number of landowners and community members are stepping up to help save these rare landscapes.

Action Is the Only Solution

Dr. Phil Howard is one of the landowners stepping up. Dr. Howard spent his career as a research scientist at the University of Vermont. He understood the unique nature of his Sandplain Forest. Standing by, watching the land lose the essence of what he loved, was not an option. So he took action.

Five years ago, Dr. Howard conserved all of his land (excluding his house site), establishing his land as the largest protected Sandplain Forest in Vermont. While he still owns the land, he has diligently worked with the Lake Champlain Land Trust and our teams of interns and volunteers to begin to manage it in a way that will help it return to its ecologically important role.

Now, thanks to the generous funders of our Ecological Restoration Fund and community members of the Land Trust, the comprehensive five-year restoration project is well underway—including research areas to document changes.

Creativity and Hard Work Pay Off   Sandplain-Forest-Rock-Point-students-sent-by-teacher-Justin-Gay-March-14-2014-(3)

While historically fire would be used to manage these lands, most Sandplain Forests are surrounded by suburban development making fire restoration work impractical. Instead, in consultation with experts, we created a strategy that substitutes selective tree removal and raking to mimic the positive impacts of fire.

There is already great news. Our active raking and tree thinning restoration work has allowed dormant seeds to come to life and has resulted in the reestablishment of a state-threatened rare plant species.

As a result, this Sandplain Forest is one step closer toward becoming a more vibrant and healthy place for the plants and animals that once flourished there.

Students make progress on mimicking the effects of fire on the forest floor.

Students make progress on mimicking the effects of fire on the forest floor.

 

Sandplain-Raked

The raked forest floor: Without the duff layer on the ground, pitch pine seeds have a better shot at germinating.

Lake Champlain Land Trust Earns National Recognition

The Lake Champlain Land Trust has achieved renewed accreditation from the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent commission of land conservation experts.LTAC_seal_green--web

In 2007 the Lake Champlain Land Trust was nationally recognized as the first land trust in Vermont and one of the first seventeen nationwide, to be officially accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. The land trust accreditation program recognizes land conservation organizations that meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever.

“This designation assures all of our supporters and local landowners, who generously protect their land for the benefit of all of us, that the Lake Champlain Land Trust is meeting or exceeding national conservation standards for excellence,” said Chris Boget, Executive Director.

“The accreditation seal lets the public know that the accredited land trust has undergone an extensive, external review of the governance and management of its organization and the systems and policies it uses to protect land.” – Tammara Van Ryn, Commission Executive Director

The Lake Champlain Land Trust was awarded renewal in August and is now one of only 280 land trusts from across the country that are now accredited. Accreditation renewal must be completed every five years and provides the public with an assurance that the Lake Champlain Land Trust continues to meet exceedingly high standards for quality.

“We are proud to have been one of the first land trusts in the country to achieve accreditation and we strive to maintain that excellence in our work every day.” -Chris Boget, Executive Director

Big Bluff Island Conserved!

Big-Bluff-High-quality-scenic-photos-from-neighbor-to-south-Glenn-Stout--web(8)

 

Seventeen islands: large and small, rugged and awe-inspiring…

Our seventeen islands are home to many of Lake Champlain’s important wildlife species including the shy and endangered Spiny Softshell Turtle and birds as tiny as the Black-throated Green Warbler— and hopefully soon the majestic Bald Eagle.

Now, thanks to former landowner Jeanie MacDonough and the support of our members and many generous funders, the latest island, Big Bluff Island, has recently joined the Lake Champlain Land Trust’s family of conserved islands, bringing the number to seventeen.

Instead of facing residential development, Big Bluff Island will now remain as forested habitat along the shoreline of Lake Champlain. It will continue to provide critical habitat for warblers and other bird species that depend upon seasonal resting spots in order to successfully complete their annual migration.

The five-acre island features a mature forest, wetlands, and the only Erosional Lake Bluff discovered on Lake Champlain  Big-Bluff-Point-leaf-off-visit-looking-E-from-middle-with-VHCB-&-Glenn-Stout-Apr-15-2013-Photo-by-Chris-Boget-(20)

It didn’t have to be this way. Jeanie MacDonough could have sold it for seasonal home development but instead realized that she had something far too special. “When you find out that you own something that is rare, a treasured community jewel, you have a choice. It has been in my family for 74 years. My late husband, Bruce Ladeau, and I started talking to the Lake Champlain Land Trust several years ago. The family is thrilled to sell it to the Lake Champlain Land Trust as a wildlife reserve.”

Partnerships, Paddlers, and Protection 

Many of the larger islands conserved by the Lake Champlain Land Trust (e.g. Knight, Woods, Law) have been donated to the State of Vermont so that people can camp or picnic as they kayak or canoe throughout the area. Most of the smaller islands protect sensitive wildlife prone to abandon their nests if disturbed. For example, thanks to cooperating landowners and our successful conservation of key islands, Lake Champlain’s endangered Common Tern was brought back from near extinction.

The Lake Champlain Land Trust will retain ownership of Big Bluff Island to make sure the management of the island will maintain a healthy balance. Paddlers visiting during the day in certain seasons will not deter the Spiny Softshell Turtle nor future Bald Eagle pairs seeking to nest on the isolated island.

“Eagles have a better chance of making a comeback, here in Vermont, every time we conserve a Lake Champlain island or part of the shoreline,” reflected Jeanie MacDonough. “It feels good to see an eagle and think, ‘Hey, we played a tiny a role in that.’”

”For us, we felt we owed it to Lake Champlain and everyone who loves the lake to honor its critical conservation importance.” -Jeanie MacDonough

For the Love of the Birds and the Lake

Upper-La-Platte-River-West-(Dietrich)-Feb-4-2013-Photo-by-Chris-Boget-(web-6)

The Dietrichs join a growing effort by the land trust and community members to help restore area waterways for water quality, and reduce the impacts of flooding.

 

As children, both Peter and Sandy Dietrich spent a great deal of time outside, exploring nature and hiking in the woods.  When they first came to Vermont four decades ago, it was the couple’s passion for birds that helped them decide on a 30-acre parcel close to the village of Shelburne. Their property included nearly a mile of frontage on the La Platte River just above the waterfalls.

The La Platte River valley, with a natural variety of habitats perfect for the ardent birders, was just downslope from their house.  All three daughters raised in their house embraced having nature close to home.  And the local black bear loved their passion for feeding the birds.

Though they would travel on birding trips far away, they would still “spend hours watching birds right from our property, including the warblers and owls along the river,” reflected Peter.

In talking with the Lake Champlain Land Trust last year, they realized that their bird habitat could also protect Lake Champlain. The Dietrichs were interested to find out about our efforts to protect and restore the Upper La Platte River Natural Area—the property adjacent to their family land.

As part of a growing effort by the land trust and community members to help restore area waterways for water quality, and reduce the impacts of flooding, the Dietrichs generously conserved the 20-acre portion of their land along the La Platte River.

Peter Dietrich hiking his land on the Upper La Platte River

Peter Dietrich hiking his land on the Upper La Platte River

Like the 65-acre natural area upstream, their stretch of the La Platte River holds the state endangered Stonecat fish.  It also contains former floodplain forests that can be restored as a water quality filter for Lake Champlain. (The La Platte River flows directly into Shelburne Bay which hosts the intake for the drinking water used by 60,000 people in the local water district.)

“We are delighted that we can help improve water quality by conserving our land as well as working with the land trust in the future to help restore the floodplain forest,” Peter Dietrich noted.

The Dietrichs included the possibility of constructing a wildlife and bird watching observation blind within their conservation plan with the hope that it will be used by area schools.

Once the land trust secures funding for the observation blind, a connector trail will be built to connect the existing Upper La Platte River Natural Area trails and parking area to the new trail. The Upper La Platte Natural Area, opened in 2011, offers wonderful walking trails, wildlife viewing, and the perfect location for environmental education.

“When we were young, nature was something you just did,” reflected Peter. “Now, with all the electronics young people are focused on, it’s really important for schools and youth groups to bring kids into nature. It also brings us great joy to share this special place with the rest of the community. If our land becomes a place of learning for schoolchildren and inspires in them a love of nature, then that is more than we could ever expect.”

Restoring the River

Everyone can do something to help protect water quality on their land! We have started a demonstration area at the newly conserved Upper La Platte River Natural Area to show visitors some easy steps they can take to ensure that their local waterways are as healthy as possible. Our first step was to take a riverside area that had been cleared and plant it with Red Osier Dogwoods.

Check out the transformation:

Upper La Platte River Natural Area Red Osier Dogwood Planting BEFORE

 

Without strong vegetation holding its banks in place, this land was in danger of erosion and flood damage as the river rose, fell, iced over, and thawed. Also, invasive species such as Poison Parsnip could take over without larger native plants to shade them out.

Upper La Platte River Natural Area restoration Midway

We chose Red Osiers because they are beautiful, native shrubs that prefer moist soils, and thus are often found growing on Vermont riverbanks. In the next few years, these shrubs will fill up this area and provide habitat and food for wildlife.

Upper La Platte River Natural Area Red Osier Dogwood Riverside Restoration Planting AFTER

Thanks to the volunteers who helped us restore the riverbank. (And thanks to the Vermont Zen Center for their continued support of our restoration plans). Volunteers, from left: Zen Center volunteer coordinator Ti’an Callery, Louise Piche, intern Rory Shamlian, Cameron Edsun, Lake Champlain Land Trust Executive Director Chris Boget.

 

Land Conservation Success Stories

Bob and Ann Buermann love their property, Paradise Bay Farm. Bob grew up here, and they’d raised their family here. They walked in the woods and had great memories of spring walks every year. In the winter, they snowshoe and cross-country ski in the woods and fields.

View from Paradise Bay FarmBut something was missing.

What would happen to this land when they needed to sell it? How could they make sure that the beautiful wooded hillsides and rolling meadows–and all that it had done for their family to build a sense of peace, community, and joy–would be available for other families in the future?

For Bob and Ann, the answer was to conserve their land. “We consider ourselves caretakers more than landowners and wanted to ensure the land and views are available for future generations to actively use,” noted Bob. “The staff at the Lake Champlain Land Trust helped us meet that goal, so even if our family eventually sells the land, there will never be houses, just open fields with lake and mountain views.”

Learn more about how to conserve your land here. Read another land conservation success story about Ellie Russell here.