Tag Archives: vermont fish and wildlife

Spring? In Vermont, Think Again.

It’s still winter in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, and with three feet of snow on the ground, the only way to get around the Nulhegan Basin division of the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge is on snowmobile.

In the basin, winter temperatures sometimes fall to -30 degrees, but for dedicated refuge biologists it’s just another chilly day at work.

This past February, two interns (myself included) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Regional Office in Hadley, Massachusetts, bundled up and headed north to brave the weather and experience the remote refuge life for a week.

From the rear passenger seat of the zooming snowmobile, half enthralled, half terrified (I was, at least), we saw the expanses of the refuge, covering many miles in a single day.

Stretching over 26,000 acres, the refuge is open for the public to explore during all seasons, either on foot or via a network of groomed snowmobile trails that act as a backwoods highway of sorts.

Through stunning spruce-fir forests we caught glimpses of red squirrels, ruffed grouse, moose and even a lone bobcat as it bounded across the trail in front of our snowmobiles.

At the very southern periphery of the boreal forest, the Nulhegan basin is home to species found nowhere else in Vermont except within these dense northern forests that stretch to meet Canada.

Species like the boreal chickadee, spruce grouse, and even the elusive Canada lynx are sustained by the thick conifers and pristine wetlands that define the boreal forest.

Only one lynx has been confirmed in Vermont since 2014, though the nation’s largest population of lynx resides in the state of Maine. That lone Vermont lynx made its home in the Nulhegan basin.

One of the best ways to identify Canada lynx, especially when compared to similar looking species like the bobcat, is by taking a look at its hind legs and paws. Canada lynx have distinctly long back legs.

Interestingly enough, lynx’s hind legs nearly match the hind legs of their primary prey, the snowshoe hare.

In the frigid north, these long back legs and wide feet allow both species to navigate through deep snow and hunt (or run away) more efficiently.

Here on the refuge, we followed UMass Amherst PhD student Alexej Siren as he tracked snowshoe hare using radio telemetry and camera traps that take photos when they are triggered by movement.

Earlier in the year, Alexej and his team fitted snowshoe hares with radio collars so that they could track the signal that the collars emit, detecting the location of the animal and gauging how the population is doing.

Not only did we get to see the incredible work being done by Service biologists and state and university partners every day on the refuge, we got to learn a thing or two about how to identify different wildlife tracks.

And at the end of a long winter’s day, who wouldn’t want this view from their office?

Who is a hunter?

Today we’re hearing from Nicole Meier, Information and Education Specialist with Vermont Fish and Wildlife and avid hunter and outdoorswoman, as she shares how she overcomes barriers in the hunting community.

Who is a hunter? How do we identify ourselves as hunters? Is it how often we go out or how often we harvest an animal? Is it how we talk about hunting and the outdoors? Is it living on a dirt road and loving country music? Do those things make or break my status as a hunter? My answer is this: you are a hunter if you want to be.

When I first moved to Vermont, I asked a co-worker of mine if he would take me hunting. I was a new hunter (I had only been out hunting once, despite fishing almost my whole life), and didn’t know Vermont at all. My vulnerable request for help was met with a resounding “no.” Ouch. I was discouraged to say the least. This co-worker also told me that he didn’t expect me to do very well in the woods, and insinuated that I should just stay home.

I barely knew anyone in the state, and after the rejection I encountered, didn’t feel like making another vulnerable request to anyone else. I certainly didn’t feel like a hunter, and didn’t feel like I could go out there on my own. So, I didn’t, and in the process, I realized that I let someone else define who I was, and let me feel like I wasn’t capable of being in the woods on my own.

After that fall, I resolved to myself that I would do a little more hunting each year. It was a fun task. With each passing year, I have felt increasingly confident in myself and my ability to go out in the woods. My confidence has increased so much that I recently spoke on a panel of female hunters. During that panel discussion I expressed my distaste for “hunter pink.” I despised it, and I let everyone else in the room know it. I felt that hunter pink was patronizing, condescending, and shallow. Women who are serious about hunting wear real hunting clothes, I asserted.

A lot of people remember me for that rant, and I regret it. Women who wear hunter pink are no less a hunter than anyone else. Who am I to say that anyone isn’t a true hunter? What matters is getting outside, and how you feel when you’re out there. I will offer this about hunter pink – manufacturers of hunting clothing need more female designers.

Identity is deeply personal, and it shouldn’t be defined by the people around us, but it should come from within. I define being a hunter deeply in my relationship with the landscape. It isn’t about filling a tag, or even filling the freezer (although that’s a big part of it for me, too!), but about connecting to my true self. When I’m in the woods, I am connected, and I feel a sense of belonging and mindfulness –  I acutely aware of myself, the place, and other beings I am interacting with.

Who has the power to decide whether or not you are a hunter? Only you do. Only you can define who you are, what a hunter is. Hunters don’t have to be hulking, bearded mountain men who are out in the woods every single day. I am a hunter – in every fiber of my 5 feet.

So what’s the Buzz all about?: A new silence in Vermont

Mark is Natural Heritage Zoologist with the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife. Photo credit: VT Dept of Fish & Wildlife.

Mark is a Natural Heritage Zoologist with the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife. Photo credit: VT Dept of Fish & Wildlife.

Signs of spring in the Northeast include the return of songbirds, flowering plants and sounds of buzzing bees. But this year, one of these biological indicators appears to be missing. As we recognize National Pollinator Week, we hear from Vermont Fish and Wildlife biologist Mark Ferguson about a recent study that has sounded the alarm on the dismal status of bumble bee populations in Vermont, and the larger effect it could have on agriculture and people.


A northern amber bumble bee nectaring on red clover. Photo credit: Kent McFarland, the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

A northern amber bumble bee nectaring on red clover. Photo credit: Kent McFarland, the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

Silence has gradually descended upon the state of Vermont. If you listen closely, you might notice that something is missing from the spring air. That something is the sound of certain bees buzzing. Bees should be eagerly making their way from flower to flower as they seek nectar and pollen, while performing the vital function of pollination. Wild bees are wildflower and agricultural superstars, helping pollinate many crops in Vermont, including blueberries, tomatoes, squash, and one of the state’s most essential commodities, apples.

A common eastern bumble bee nest. Photo credit: Kent McFarland, Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

A common eastern bumble bee nest. Photo credit: Kent McFarland, Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

Since the late 1990’s, wildlife biologists have noticed a decline in the abundance and distribution of bumble bee species worldwide. Yet, scientists had little knowledge of bee distribution, rarity and habitat needs in Vermont. So in 2012 the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE) with support from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department initiated the Vermont Bumble Bee Survey. The goal: to document past and current populations and distributions of bumble bees and the Eastern carpenter bee across the state.

To fund this massive and critical biological assessment, the VCE looked to partners for assistance. Along with Binnacle Family Foundation and the Riverledge Foundation, the Service’s State Wildlife Grant Program provided the financial backing to complete the project. The State Wildlife Grant Program is administered through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, with the intent of benefiting fish and wildlife “species at risk”.

Lief Richardson works on the Vermont Bumble Bee Survey. Photo credit: Kent McFarland, Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

Lief Richardson works on the Vermont Bumble Bee Survey. Photo credit: Kent McFarland, Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

After enlisting and training a corps of “citizen scientists”, the Survey team searched more than 1,500 locations across the state’s 14 counties. From spring 2012 to fall 2014 the group moved from roadsides to mountain meadows, amassing a database that exceeded 10,000 individual encounters with 12 species of bumble bees and the Eastern carpenter bee.

Of the 17 bumble bee species known historically in Vermont, the team was unsuccessful at locating 5 species, the rusty-patched bumble bee, American bumble bee, Ashton’s cuckoo bumble bee, Fernald cuckoo bumble bee and indiscriminate cuckoo bumble bee. One species not know historically in Vermont was observed more recently, the black and gold bumble bee.

5 (1)After further analysis, the team determined that more than one-quarter of Vermont’s bumble bee species, which are vital crop and wild plant pollinators, have either vanished or are in serious decline. Nine species of bumble bees appear to be of conservation concern. Five of these species seem to have disappeared and others may not be far behind. Yet, at the same time, some common species appear to have increased in abundance and distribution compared to historical data.

A yellow-banded bumble bee. PHoto credit: Kent McFarland, Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

A yellow-banded bumble bee. Photo credit: Kent McFarland, Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

So what does all this mean for the future of bumble bees, agriculture and conservation? The Vermont Bumble Bee Survey put bumble bees on the conservation radar screen. Vermont then used Bumble Bee Survey data as justification for including nine bumble bees as Species of Greatest Conservation Need in its newly revised Wildlife Action Plan. Though still in review, the Action Plan is already supporting the development of guidelines for bumble bee habitat improvements for private and public landowners. This is an important first step in developing a comprehensive strategy for bumble bee conservation that could have lasting impacts on not only the state’s conservation success, but also its social and economic future.



Vermont bumble bee species profiles

Vermont’s Wildlife Action Plan

Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program

Learn more about pollinators