Ripples: The Newsletter of the
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
Science In Practice
March 2013


Respect.          Protect.          Enjoy.


In This Issue:
From the Secretary's Desk: Making Science the Centerpiece Of Our Work At ANR
BioFinder - A New Approach Towards Understanding Vermont's Environment
Vermont Natural Resource Atlas Informs Land Use Planning And Recreation
Geologic Bedrock Map Delves Beneath The Surface To Unearth Vermont's Geological Mysteries
The Vermont Vernal Pool Mapping Project Identifies Crucial Amphibian Breeding Habitat
Becoming An Outdoor Family: Your Invitation Into The Great Outdoors

Get Outdoors: 

10 Things To Do In The Spring


1. Identify Birds: Migrators are heading back to Vermont, which makes this an ideal time to start a list of birds passing through your backyard or neighborhood.


2. Look for Animal Tracks In Mud: There's lots of mud around this time of year, and although it may be messy, it is also fun to look for tracks and learn about nocturnal visitors to your area. Streambeds are a great place to look for tracks.


3. Visit a Pond or Vernal Pool: Amphibians are laying their eggs in ponds, pools and puddles, small insects and invertebrates are venturing out after the long winter, and spring peepers are starting to call. Any small body of water is an adventure waiting to happen this time of year. Remember never to wear insect repellent when handling amphibians or examining their eggs.


4. Check Out the Wildflowers: Lots of plants bloom in the spring. Observe whether the flowers come out before or after the leaves, what scents the plants give off and where they are located. Do some research or try to guess why each flowering plant grows the way that it does.


5. Find a Rock: And then check out our geologic bedrock map to guess what type of rock you have found.


6. Make a Bark Rubbing: Anyone can identify a tree by its leaves. Make a bark rubbing and learn how to identify local tree species by the bark as well as the leaves.


7. Start A Journal: Watch the world around you and record what you see. Write, paint, draw - what you put in its pages isn't as important as the practice of honing your observation skills.


8. Put Out Some Strands of Brightly Colored Yarn or Thread: Keep a close eye on nearby bird nests to see if your contribution makes its way into the home of a local critter.


9. Install a Bird or Bat House: Not only are birds and bats fun to watch, but they do a fantastic job gobbling up mosquitoes and other pesky bugs.


10. Plant A Garden: It doesn't matter what you grow. Gardening is a great way to learn more about the relationships between plants, animals and their environment, is good exercise and will get you out of the house to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.


In last month's trivia section we mentioned that the Timber Rattlesnake is Vermont's only poisonous snake. Actually, the correct term is venomous. Poisons refer to plants and ingestibles while snakes such as the Timber Rattler have venom. Thanks to state wildlife technician Alyssa Bennett for catching the error and to wildlife biologist Doug Blodgett for confirming.
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ANR Secretary Deb Markowitz
Making Science the Centerpiece of Our Work at ANR

Two years ago when the new leadership team took office at the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), we devoted some time to developing our vision for the agency and decided that one of the most important contributions we could make as a team was to enhance the role, visibility and value of science at the agency. We knew that it was essential for us to provide sound data and analysis for Vermonters to use in exercising their shared ethic of responsibility for our natural environment. Vermonters understand that we are an integral part of the environment and are curious to know more about how we impact and are dependent upon our air, wildlife and water.


We can use science to help us protect our rivers, lakes and ponds, our farms and forests, the views from our Green Mountains, the air we breathe and the amazing diversity of life that lives on our beautiful landscapes.


Scientific knowledge is dynamic. Scientific inquiry and data collection are designed to reduce uncertainties and increase our understanding of complex systems. Research can change our assumptions about the impacts of environmental problems and how they should be addressed, and scientific information can lead to new strategies to prevent or mitigate pollution, direct conservation efforts and protect our natural environment. Of course, science is only one piece of the policy puzzle - but it can help to inform our actions.

At ANR we have been investing in developing scientific information and analysis for many decades. Over the past year we have added some great new tools to make this information more broadly available. Read more. 



Biofinder - A New Approach Towards Understanding Vermont's Environment
By John Austin, Jon Kart, Jens Hilke and Eric Sorenson

Over the past 18 months, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) has spearheaded an effort to develop a GIS mapping tool that helps conservation practitioners, planners, land managers and other engaged in land conservation explore the distribution and richness of Vermont's natural heritage in a way that can inform land use decision-making and planning. This new tool, known as BioFinder, is the product of a science-based collaborative with numerous conservation organizations including U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Vermont Audubon and Vermont Land Trust, among others. Twenty one datasets were used to develop this tool including habitat blocks, natural communities, important wildlife habitat, linkage habitat, aquatics and more. The breadth of data covered the various scales of Vermont's ecosystems ranging from large landscapes (habitat blocks and connecting lands) to localized species such as locations and habitats for rare species.

The mapping tool is now available on ANR's website at It is being used by various organizations, including ANR to inform land use decisions as well as guiding decisions on land acquisition. BioFinder provides useful perspective by putting lands into a larger framework within a broader landscape. As ANR continues to develop strategies to adapt to climate change and its attendant effects on natural resources, BioFinder provides useful information on important areas of land that connect large habitat blocks that allow the movement of wide-ranging wildlife such as black bear, bobcat, lynx and others. That's just one example of the important contributions BioFinder will offer in understanding Vermont's rich natural heritage and for making important conservation decisions.

BioFinder can be used in a variety of ways and for a variety of different purposes. At its most basic, BioFinder is both a single tiered dataset as well as a database of the twenty one component datasets that formed it. The user should rely on both of these sources of information when looking at a particular location. Begin with the Tiered Classification since it offers first impressions of a relative importance for biological diversity. Then reference all component layers present at that location, understanding why the area was assigned the tier ranking(s) that it did. A back and forth between the two data offers the user valuable insights into the spatial distribution and richness of biological diversity in Vermont.

For more information on the BioFinder, please visit the website here.

The Biofinder project represented an unprecedented level of collaboration that pulled in datasets and staff expertise from nearly every program within the Agency of Natural Resources. Given the level of collaboration, we thought it would be fun to share some of the perspectives and contributions of staff members across the agency who contributed to creating the BioFinder tool. Click here for a collection of quotes from staff members involved in the development and deployment of the BioFinder project.


Vermont Natural Resource Atlas Informs Land Use Planning and Recreation

An Interview With Jim Horton, FPR State Lands Coordinator


There were six blind men who were considered very wise. One day they came upon an elephant, and, not having encountered one before, set out to learn what an elephant was about.


The first blind man touched the side of the elephant. "How big and smooth! The elephant is like a wall"

The second blind man touched the trunk of the elephant. "How round! The elephant is like a snake."

The third blind man touched the tusk of the elephant. "How sharp! An elephant is like a spear."

The fourth blind man touched the leg of the elephant. "How tall! An elephant must be like a tree."

The fifth blind man touched the elephant's ear. "How wide! An elephant is like a fan."

The sixth blind man touched the tail of the elephant. "How thin! An elephant is like a rope."


I love the story above. It is a tale of perception. Each of these men experienced a piece of a whole animal, and each formulated his worldview based on his unique experience. In reality, the elephant encompassed all of these pieces, but without the ability to see the entirety of the animal each man missed crucial information that would have helped him to gain a better understanding of the animal he was studying. Although this story has been around for centuries, its lessons are still being applied in real-world situations today, and are particularly applicable when discussing the natural world and the relationships and intersections that define it.


Many of the tools and plans being implemented by the Agency of Natural Resources focus not solely on a particular feature (like a parcel of land, a particular species or a single river) but on the web of associations that intertwine a parcel with its neighbors, a species with its habitat or a river with the watershed that envelopes it and feeds its flow. These tools are meant to assist scientists, developers, municipal planners, conservation commissions, landowners and citizens in gaining a better understanding of the natural environment, so that informed decisions can lead to healthier communities.


The Vermont Natural Resource Atlas is one of these tools. The atlas is a map, built upon GIS-based datasets, that displays layers of information that have been collected by ANR staff through the years. Similar to the BioFinder, the Natural Resource Atlas differs in that it only presents information, while the BioFinder tool goes a step farther by assigning weighted values to collections of information. A map like the Natural Resource Atlas has many applications. I spoke with Jim Horton, State Lands Coordinator with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, about some of these.


Jim is responsible, in part, for assessing and reviewing potential state land acquisitions within the state. Using guidelines and criteria laid out by the Agency's Land Acquisition Plan, Horton and his colleagues will consider and prioritize which pieces of available land might be put to best use, as a recreation resource for example, or as critical protection for a particular species or body of water, or even as a particularly important access to an existing state holding.


In the past, land coordinators like Horton were limited by the information available to them. "We used to draw maps by hand." Horton explained. "There was no consistency between information available from one parcel to another. There was no way to look beyond the boundaries of a piece of property." Tools like the Natural Resource Atlas have changed this. "The map allows us to get a comprehensive view of holdings, and helps us to get a better idea of how one dataset may relate to another." Horton explained. "Now I can pull up the atlas and get more detail. I can assess properties for possible acquisition and prioritize them. There is consistency of information across parcels and the information incorporates land value, habitat value and proximity to other important considerations."


We discussed how this is changing the nature of his work and Jim explained that his focus is no longer restricted by property boundaries. "When assessing multiple parcels, we can look at the landscape level first and talk about what it is that each property brings to the table." When asked what this meant for Vermonters he replied, "We can start to look at wider trends, what is going on from a big-picture perspective. This is going to become more important when considering landscape-scale issues like climate change and flood resiliency. These visual databases are great tools for anyone interested in learning about Vermont."


You can view, use or learn more about the Vermont Natural Resource Atlas here.


Geologic Bedrock Map Delves Beneath The Surface To Unearth Vermont's Geological Mysteries

By Marjorie Gale, Vermont Geological Survey Geologist


Did you know that a map of Vermont's bedrock can help you to understand what types of plants and animals live in a specified area? How about that exploring a bedrock map can inform the viewer about groundwater supplies and may let you know whether there is a possibility of radioactivity in your well water or basement? A geologic map is the primary tool for communicating scientific data to other geologists and to the public. Bedrock and glacial deposits, the underlying materials of our landscape and working landscape, are also critical factors for water supplies, water quality, soils, lakes and rivers, the air we breathe and the health of plants and animals which thrive in and on these materials.


Development of the 2011 Bedrock Geologic Map of Vermont was a joint project of the Vermont Geological Survey, the US Geological Survey, and the University of Vermont. The map was developed in conjunction with plate tectonic theory and drew upon the scientific expertise of a number of New England and Canadian geologists. Based on more than 30 years of field work and analysis, the Vermont Geologic Bedrock Map is a powerful analytical tool, particularly when paired with other data sets such as glacial deposits, well water data, geochemistry and ecological datasets.


The map is a 2-dimensional representation of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks at the surface and includes the geologists' interpretation of what is at depth. Since rocks are made of minerals and each mineral has a chemical composition, a bedrock map is also a general guide to the earth's chemistry. Rock types are shown on the map as different colors and grouped as formations. The descriptions of the map units list minerals in each rock in order from least to most abundant, and a generalized tectonic map shows major structures such as folds and faults.


Those interested in geology can use the map to understand the geologic history of a region. In addition, Vermont geologic maps have been used to locate resources for buildings, roads, monuments and a host of other products. Applications of the Vermont bedrock map will likely focus on protecting and locating groundwater supplies, understanding sources of naturally-occurring elements such as arsenic or radionuclides, considering geothermal resources and preserving geological settings which impact biodiversity and ecological changes associated with a changing climate. Some people have even used it to locate the best areas to pan for gold!

The Bedrock Geologic Map of Vermont is online and available to the public. You can view the map online or order a paper copy here.


Photo Credit: � Jim Block.
To explore this image in detail, click on the photo above to link to an interactive version.

The Vermont Vernal Pool Mapping Project Identifies Crucial Amphibian Breeding Habitat


Each spring in Vermont, pooling rain and snowmelt create an ephemeral habitat in forests, meadows and low-lying depressions throughout the state. Known as vernal pools, these water bodies are temporary in nature, drying and evaporating as spring transitions to summer. During the months when the pools exist, they serve as a crucial habitat to a collection of species - primarily amphibian, but also including invertebrates - that rely on their shallow waters, proximity to forest litter and lack of predators to reproduce. Until recently, little was known about the number and location of these seasonal wetlands. In order to provide protection for these temporary habitats and the creatures that rely upon them, it was necessary to develop a better understanding of how many existed in Vermont, where they were located and what types of species these ecosystems were supporting during the months of the year when they were available to breeding populations.


This is how the Vernal Pool Mapping Project came into existence. A partnership between the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (F&W), the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE) and Arrowwood Environmental, the project has also benefited from the work of hundreds of citizen volunteers across the state. The project utilized data previously collected by Fish & Wildlife as well as aerial photography to identify potential vernal pools throughout the state. Once this list had been created, VCE trained and deployed citizen monitors to about 1400 of the 5000 locations that had been initially identified, to confirm the existence of a vernal pool on location and to look for indicators of species such as frogs, toads, mud puppies, newts and salamanders. Only locations on public lands, or on private land where landowner permissions had been obtained, were included in the on-site part of the undertaking so not all pools are represented in the database. The project was funded in part by a grant from Fish & Wildlife's Vermont State Wildlife Grant Program and data collected to-date has been included as a dataset in the BioFinder tool mentioned in the article above.


The information collected through the Vernal Pool Mapping Project is useful to scientists, developers and landowners alike. Collecting information about this previously little-documented wetland habitat is the first step toward its conservation. For more information about the project, or to find out how you can become a volunteer monitor, please visit the Vermont Center for Ecostudies' Vernal Pool Mapping Project page here.


Becoming An Outdoor Family: Your Invitation Into The Great Outdoors


Is your family experiencing nature deficit disorder? Come join us on May 31, June 1 and June 2nd for our 16th year offering outdoor education experiences for the whole family.
The Becoming an Outdoor Family program is a joint effort of the University of Vermont Extension and the Agency of Natural Resource's Departments of Fish & Wildlife and Forests, Parks & Recreation. The goal is to promote, address and instill in the general public a basic understanding of environmental conservation, safety and fun in the outdoors. The Becoming an Outdoor Family weekend is a wonderful opportunity for families to bond, learn something new, or establish traditions that may last a lifetime. 
This year's event will take place at beautiful Stillwater State Park in the Groton Forest. The weekend includes classes and workshops, led by expert instructors who will begin each class with the basics and provide plenty of hands-on experience in subjects ranging from orienteering, to nature photography, to firearm safety. In addition to workshops the weekend will include opportunities to socialize, relax and recreate in the beauty of the great outdoors.
Registration is now open and runs through May 17, 2013. Fees, class descriptions and full program information are available to view or print here.

Like Us On Facebook! 
Liking the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources' Facebook page is a terrific way to stay connected to everything natural resource-related. Sustainability tips, hunting and fishing news, beautiful landscape and wildlife photos, public comment notices, all of these and more are available to our Facebook community. Why not become a part of it? Click here to visit our new page now!
Contact Us:

Deb Markowitz, Secretary

Vermont Agency of Natural Resources


[email protected]