Outdoor Recreation Safety Tips For Summer Fun
Summer is on our doorsteps, and with the long days and warm temperatures comes a wonderful array of opportunities to get outdoors and make memories that will keep us warm throughout the year.
Swimming, fishing, hiking, boating and other outdoor recreational activities are a wonderful way to relax, stay healthy and get to know the natural world. However they also come with a unique set of risks, and since the best way to enjoy an experience is to emerge from it healthy and whole, it is a good idea to be prepared.
Outdoor Recreation Safety Tips:
1) Be Weather Wise: Listen to the forecast in advance, and keep an eye on the weather while you are on the water
2) Use Common Sense: Operate motorized boats at a safe speed, especially in recreational areas where people may be swimming. Be alert to objects in the water and under the surface. Avoid or limit alcohol.
3) Wear A Lifejacket: Did you know the majority of drowning victims associated with boating were not wearing lifejackets? Don't become a statistic, make sure each participant is wearing a properly fitted lifejacket.
4) Learn To Swim: If you are going to be in and around the water, it is a good idea to learn how to swim.
Hiking & Backpacking:
1) Be Prepared: Know the conditions where you are headed. It may be much colder on a summit than at the base of a mountain. Wear shoes and clothing appropriate to the situation. The most immediate threat that stranded hikers face is usually hypothermia.
2) Go Together: It is always safest (and can also be a lot of fun) to hike with someone else. If you are hiking alone, make sure to let someone know your planned route, and then schedule a time to check in with them upon your return. If there is a trail log, sign in and back out again.
3) Keep A Respectful Distance From Wildlife: Research what types of animals you are likely to come across in an area ahead of time. If you do come across wildlife, give them a wide berth. Wild animals are always unpredictable. Keep an eye out also for smaller hazards, such as ground-nesting hornets.
4) Know How To Respond To An Emergency: If you spend a lot of time outdoors, it might be a good idea to take a wilderness first aid course. If you find yourself lost or facing an unexpected night outdoors, remember the acronym STOP:
Stay where you are - rescuers are more likely to find you if you do not stray far from your planned route
Think - Think about what the most immediate threats may be and respond to those first. Hypothermia is nearly always the first threat so work on shelter first, then water and worry about food last. While keeping in mind the first general rule, consider moving from the top of a mountain to a more sheltered location if you are caught in an electrical storm, or move out of a deep valley if you expect flash flooding. A lost hiker's worst enemy is often their own mounting panic. Try to stay calm and think through your actions.
Observe - Look around you and note if there are any landscape features or materials that you can use to your advantage. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention after all.
Plan - Make a short-term plan. Most lost hikers are found within 24 hours, but what you do with that time can make the difference between a tragedy and a very exciting experience to share over the dinner table.
1) When possible, swim at a staffed beach or pool with lifeguard staff on duty.
2) Swim With A Friend: Like hiking or boating, swimming is an activity best shared.
3) Recognize That Natural Water Bodies Are Unpredictable: Natural water bodies are not static. Conditions change with weather, and sub-surface obstructions can shift over time. Remember that heavy rains can hide underwater dangers and create swift conditions that may be dangerous.
4) Be Aware of Water Temperature: As on land, hypothermia is a concern for swimmers. Because you are submersed however, hypothermic conditions can come on more quickly. In some bodies of water, temperatures can still be in the 50's in late spring and into early summer.
5) Keep An Eye To The Sky: Electrical storms represent a danger to those swimming, since water is an excellent conductor of electricity. Get out of the water during a thunderstorm.
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From the Secretary's Desk: Wrapping Up The Legislative Session
|ANR Secretary Deb Markowitz|
On July 1st a number of new pieces of environmental legislation will become effective. This reflects the fact that we had a successful year in the legislature. I am deeply grateful for the support the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources receives from the legislature for our budget - and for our mission. Not many other state environmental agencies can say the same!
ANR's success is in large part due to the hard work of our legislative committees as well as the many ANR staff who are called upon to offer expert testimony and assistance to them. A special thanks to these dedicated Vermonters for all of their efforts.
ANR would not be able to function effectively - or achieve legislative successes - if our values were not also yours. Thanks to all of you who share our belief that a healthy natural environment is the foundation for a healthy economy, healthy people and healthy, resilient communities.
It was an exciting year to be working with the legislature. Here is a short description of what we accomplished:
- Municipal and Regional Planning and Flood Resilience: H.401 was signed by the Governor on May 6. This bill mandates that municipalities and regional planning commissions address flood resiliency as an element of town and regional plans.
- Motor Vehicle Law Amendments Including Anti-Idling: S.150 - Generally prohibits idling of vehicles for more than five minutes in any hour while the vehicle is stationary. There are many exceptions to the rule, including for example public safety and emergency vehicles, because of traffic, or for the health or safety of a vehicle occupant. There is also an exemption for those who operate safety equipment.
- Shorelands Protection: H.526 - Strongly supported in the House, but held in the Senate until next session, this bill would authorize ANR to regulate development in lake shorelands for the purpose of protecting the functions and values of the state's lakes and ponds, while still allowing reasonable, lake-friendly development. We will continue to work with the legislature on this bill over the summer and fall, holding public sessions to discuss what the rules would look like and to address public concern. I am optimistic that the bill will have sufficient support to pass the Senate next year.
- Underground Storage Tanks and Brownfields: H.226 - This bill reauthorizes the State's Petroleum Cleanup Fund and provides a schedule for closure of single-wall underground storage tanks. An amendment in Senate Natural Resources to insert H.410 added in a number of recommendations from the Brownfields Advisory Committee to strengthen the ANR's program for redevelopment of contaminated properties.
- Thermal Efficiency: H.520 - Included in the thermal efficiency bill, which has passed both houses, are two important ANR air quality provisions: a clarification to existing law that deletes an existing prohibition against mandating the sale of battery-powered vehicles, which helps the state to move forward with plans for adoption of California Zero Emission Vehicle regulations; and a provision addressing Vermont's future participation in the 2005 Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
- The Budget: H.530 - The Governor's budget proposal to finally fix structural budget issues in Fish & Wildlife is a major achievement. This is perhaps one of the most significant positive changes in Fish & Wildlife in many years. In addition, a very important line item in the budget for the Dept. of Environmental Conservaton (DEC) is the appropriation for new positions and technology to begin implementing a "lean" process in DEC's business processes; we have referred to this as the DEC Business Transformation Initiative, and it has been supported by environmental groups, the business community and legislators. The FPR budget adds in general fund to support an additional county forester, and the central office budget includes funds to support the addition of a climate policy position.
- The Vermont Sportsmen's Act: H.101 - Includes several new provisions about bears, including a ban on feeding them. People wanting to dispatch of a nuisance bear are now required to first take non-lethal steps to protect their property. The new law also prohibits the importing or possession of wild hogs. Many states, including New York and New Hampshire, are trying to control populations of hogs, which can carry disease and destroy both wildlife habitat and crops. It also contains a number of additional important substantive and technical items related to Fish & Wildlife.
- Harvesting Guidelines and Procurement Standards: H.131 - This bill clarifies and makes technical corrections to Act 170, the energy bill of 2012. It removes any reference to Use Value Appraisal; and requires the Dept. of Forests, Parks and Recreation (FPR) to develop voluntary harvesting guidelines through a public process (due Jan. 2015). It requires FPR to ensure that harvests on state lands are consistent with the purposes of the guidelines (protecting forest health and sustainability); and requires the development of standards for all state agencies procuring wood products from whole-tree harvests in Vermont. It also requires the agency to work with regional governmental organizations to develop regional voluntary harvesting guidelines.
- Revenue Bill: H.528 - Includes language to repeal the so-called Westman Amendment that made ineligible for UVA any parcel with a waste water permit that is not for legitimate agricultural or silvicultural purposes. That mandate was, over two years, shown to be impossible to administer.
New Legislation Supports Town Planning For Flood Resiliency
By Sarah McKearnon, Vermont DEC
Reminders of how important it is for Vermont communities to plan for severe flooding seem almost constant these days. In August, we will pass the second anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene, while families and communities affected by the storm's torrential rains still continue to rebuild from the extensive damage. Just this spring, a federally-declared flooding disaster in Jericho and Underhill delivered yet another reminder, while many other communities experienced record or near-record rainfall but escaped major damage. More than eight inches of rain pelted Burlington in May alone.
Responding to our growing flood risks, the Vermont Legislature passed Act 16 this fall. The Act requires municipal and regional plans to incorporate a "flood resilience" component or element. Working towards resilience means both proactively reducing vulnerabilities to flooding and flood damage, and also improving response and recovery efforts when flood events do occur, so that we can bounce back quickly and minimize long term economic, social and other impacts.
As the Act comes into effect in July of 2014, communities large and small will be asked to take a close look at their risks for flood damage as they plan for future land uses within their borders. This effort will include using maps to identify local flood hazard areas, pointing to specific areas that should be protected because they help slow down and absorb floodwaters (including floodplains and river corridors, forests and wetlands) and recommending specific strategies and policies that will help protect these areas and reduce the risks facing existing development.
Vermont's many small scale, volunteer-led municipal governments will look to Agency of Natural Resources staff and programs as they grapple with what they want the flood resilience element in their town plan to include. There are many projects in motion at ANR that will provide good resources and assistance to make flood resilience planning an integral part of town planning. ANR's Rivers Program is currently developing maps of river corridors that will cover the whole state (previously, only some corridors were mapped).
The Program is also developing a new one-stop flooding web site that will give municipalities and Regional Planning Commissions easy access to these maps, as well as case studies of local resilience success stories, concise guidance, and easy to use planning tools.
Other ANR programs within the Departments of Forests, Parks and Recreation and Fish and Wildlife are coordinating to provide municipal assistance that will protect forestland, riparian areas and other key natural assets that provide habitat, protect water quality and absorb rain where it falls. The better these systems function, the more resilient surrounding communities will be.
The new requirements under Act 16 offer a valuable opportunity for ANR to dialogue with regional planning commissions, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, municipalities and many other partner organizations on how to support work at the local level to prepare for future flooding. It couldn't come at a better time; with intense storms growing in frequency here and in other Northeastern states, Vermonters need to work together to support a healthy and thriving future for our economy, our communities and our ecosystems in the face of frequent flooding.
|A black bear raiding beehives, photo credit Summerz|
New State Law Works to Keep Vermont's Bears Wild
By John Hall, Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife
Feeding bears nearly always ends tragically for the bear. Feeding a bear alters its relationship with humans. It now views human encounters and settlements as opportunities to find food. Once a bear learns that this is a successful strategy, it is nearly impossible to change that behavior. These bears lose their fear of people, will seek out human homes and encampments and become a danger. Fed bears nearly always end up being destroyed. H.101 (Act 78) An act relating to hunting, fishing, and trapping, endeavors to remedy this. One of the key components of this "housekeeping legislation" has to do with Vermont's black bears.
The new law prohibits feeding bears. It also requires that, under most circumstances, anyone taking a nuisance bear must first attempt reasonable non-lethal measures to protect their own property. And, it repeals a requirement that the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department reimburse a claimant who is not a farmer for damage by bears to livestock or bees. A farmer can still be reimbursed as long as his or her land is not posted against hunting.
An existing law also prohibits a person from killing a bear that has been attracted to any artificial bait or food such as bird seed.
"We are receiving reports from all across the state of bears seeking food at bird feeders, bee hives, chicken coops and other sources," said State Wildlife Biologist Forrest Hammond.
"People can help by removing any food sources that may tempt the bears. We also recommend using electrical fencing to protect bee hives and chickens from hungry bears and using noise-making devices to scare off bears that come near houses."
"These animals are smart and are easily attracted to birdfeeders. Bears can gradually lose their fear of people and begin going from house to house looking for more goodies," added Hammond. "It doesn't take long in these situations before a bear gets so comfortable around people that it causes property damage or begins to be seen as a potential threat to people in surprise encounters. When the department has to choose between the safety of people and the safety of bears, bears will always lose."
"Don't leave pet food outside, wash down your barbecues after using them, and secure your garbage containers," he added.
Hammond says that although rare, there have been incidents in which people were injured by bears that lost their fear of people while finding food near homes.
"We care about these bears as much as anyone," he said. "Having to destroy one that has become a threat to human safety is heart rending, and yet we know that moving them to another location doesn't change their behavior. They continue to seek food near people because they have learned that it works. Vermont has a healthy, wild population of black bears. People can help keep bears and other wildlife from becoming a problem by making sure there are no food sources that will tempt bears."
To learn more, check out the "Living with Black Bears" section of Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department's website (www.vtfishandwildlife.com) or use this quick link: http://tinyurl.com/n6eg8n6
For the full text of H.101 (Act 78) An act relating to hunting, fishing, and trapping, go here: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2014/Acts/ACT078.pdf
Shoreland Vegetation Protects Against Erosion and Flooding and Conserves Biological Diversity of Aquatic Edge Habitat
|Shoreland development that protects water quality, recreational uses, aquatic habitat and property values|
By Susan Warren, DEC Lakes and Ponds Program
A bill requiring the state to develop standards for good lake shoreland management is currently under consideration by the Senate Natural Resources committee and has generated a lot of interest, particularly among lake communities. H.526 passed the House in April and has not yet undergone any redrafting by the Senate. The legislature has established a Summer Commission to hold public meetings for Vermonters to learn about the bill and shoreland issues and to provide comment.
The Agency and the Dept. of Environmental Conservation's Lakes and Ponds Section have long been concerned about the loss of naturally vegetated shores (woodlands) through shoreland development. Wooded shorelands protect water quality and bank stability, and aquatic and terrestrial habitat as well as provide economic benefits such as flood resilience and increased property values and protect resources that provide the foundation for Vermont's vibrant tourism economy. The vast majority of shoreland development does not undergo any state review requiring protection of natural vegtation and only 20% of towns have provisions in their local zoning for maintaining natural vegetation on lakeshores.
The benefits of natural vegetation to removing pollutants from runoff have been well-established by several decades of scientific research. Interestingly, ANR has been in the lead nationally for researching and demonstrating the value of natural shoreland vegetation in protecting aquatic habitats. The boundary between lake and land is critical to a wide diversity of terrestrial and aquatic organisms - from fish, to aquatic insects, to birds and mammals. Vegetated shorelines support these forms of life by fostering a variety of bottom types with boulders and cobbles, woody snags, and a healthy diversity of aquatic plants.
Scientists at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources have measured the physical and biological changes that occur when Vermont's lakeshores are developed without leaving a protective buffer of shoreline vegetation. Sites without shoreline tree cover have less woody structure and leaf litter along the lake bottom. This is significant because sunken wood and leaves provide cover for fish, substrates for the eggs of frogs and fish, and food for the complex community of microorganisms that form the foundation of the near-shore food chain. Developed sites with rocky bottoms have more sand and silt embedded among the cobbles, filling spaces needed by various insect larvae and other small aquatic organisms. Dragonflies and damselflies are key indicators of healthy lake biology, and fewer of these insects are found along cleared shorelines.
In addition, ANR scientists sampled using the same methods in Maine lakes, where a state regulation protecting natural shoreland vegetation has been in place for 40 years, and found these development standards protected the aquatic habitat features.
The flooding of 2011 illustrated the value of natural shoreland vegetation in preventing shoreline erosion. Most of the sites where erosion occured on Lake Champlain were areas where the native vegetation had been removed and replaced with lawn or even retaining walls. A diverse mix of woody vegetation provides bank stability and flood resilience, important factors in adapting to a changing climate.
Further information can be found at: http://www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/waterq/lakes.htm
The Passage Of H.226 A Win For Vermont Tank Owners, Planning Groups and Downtown Revitalization
By Chuck Schwer, DEC Waste Management Division
The Agency of Natural Resources devoted considerable effort to the passage of H.226 this session. This bill started off as the Petroleum Cleanup Fund (PCF) bill but late in the session a Brownfields bill was attached in the Senate. This bill extended the PCF another 5 years, as it was scheduled to sunset in July of 2014. This extension was very important to Vermont tank owners as private insurance remains either unavailable or unaffordable for most tank owners and both state and federal law requires tank owners to have this type of financial responsibility. The PCF also provides cleanup funds for residential homeowner aboveground tank leaks. For these reasons legislators supported the renewal of this successful program.
This bill raised the annual fee to participate in the PCF for tank owners with single-wall underground storage tanks, and established dates for when these tank need to be removed from the ground. These changes were strongly recommended by the Agency as single-walled tank systems represent the highest risk to the fund and the environment. Over the past 5 years, releases from single-walled tank systems have required nearly $1.5M in PCF funds while releases from double-walled underground storage tanks systems did not require any PCF funding. In addition, recent releases from single-walled systems have resulted in serious impacts to public health and the environment. Two recent releases resulted in explosive gasoline vapors in sewer and storm drain systems with one site also having indoor air exposure in adjacent residential homes.
The Agency also supported the Brownfields bill that was attached to H.226. This bill creates a process for municipalities, Regional Development Corporations and Regional Planning Commissions to acquire brownfields and stay outside the chain of liability during acquisition. It allows these entities to conduct assessment and cleanup on the property and then market the property to a developer. The bill also clarifies what a property owner must do in order to show that they did a diligent and appropriate investigation in order to have a defense against liability. Lastly, the bill clarifies the process for a lender or fiduciary to foreclose on contaminated properties through bankruptcy.
What the Brownfields provision means for Vermont communities is more efficient and more effective revitalization of derelict properties, especially in downtown centers. If revitalized, these facilities can limit sprawl, create jobs and boost the long-term economic prosperity of a community, all while providing new and exciting services to community members. H.226 was a victory for many Vermonters, and will allow for both continued protection, and added benefit to communities.
|Idling school buses can exacerbate asthma and cause air quality issues|
S. 150 Improves Air Quality and Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Limiting Vehicle Idling
By Tom Moye, DEC Air Quality Division
The Department of Environmental Conservation's Air Pollution Control Division is involved in a number of programs and strategies aimed at reducing air pollution from motor vehicles in Vermont. That's because motor vehicles are the largest emissions source of greenhouse gases and a number of other air pollutants that threaten human health and our environment. Of all the strategies that can be implemented to tackle this problem, one is clearly low hanging fruit: eliminate unnecessary vehicle idling. Limiting unnecessary vehicle idling will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and public exposure to harmful air pollutants, including: volatile organic compounds (VOC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), which together contribute to increased ground-level ozone concentrations that can trigger asthma attacks and harm the respiratory system; fine particulate matter, which can cause respiratory and cardiovascular damage and lead to haze that reduces visibility; carbon monoxide (CO), an invisible, odorless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen to the body's organs and tissues; and numerous toxic compounds, many of which are known or suspected carcinogens. Unnecessary vehicle idling also wastes fuel and increases operating costs.
S.150, passed by the Legislature and signed into law on May 30, prohibits motor vehicles from idling for more than five minutes in any 60-minute period, subject to certain exceptions, and requires that driver education courses include instruction addressing unnecessary vehicle idling. Starting in May of next year, violations of the law will be a traffic offense, enforceable by state and local law enforcement officers. ANR supported S.150, and during the legislative session staff worked closely with legislators, the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the Department of Motor Vehicles and others, recommending revisions to close loopholes and improve the law's effectiveness. While not all of ANR's recommendations made it in to the final version of the law, passage of this legislation ends more than 10 years of unsuccessful efforts to bring Vermont on board with all the other New England states that have laws prohibiting unnecessary vehicle idling. This legislation defines acceptable idling limits for vehicles and provides much needed guidance for Vermont municipalities and school districts in addressing citizen complaints and protecting public health throughout Vermont. While it is not expected that enforcement of idling limits will be a routine or high-priority activity for law enforcement agencies, this law establishes a societal norm, and provides a mechanism for dealing with repeat and/or flagrant violations. Vehicle owners and operators will also benefit from the reduced fuel consumption and engine wear associated with reducing unnecessary engine idling.
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