2005: The Year in Review, Part 8 – Nature

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(Host) The natural world turned rowdy several times during the year. Rivers did not stay where we wanted them.

Bugs chewed up our favorite trees. Snow and ice put parts of the state in the pre-electric age.

As Steve Delaney reports in this section of our year in review, most parts of Vermont were affected, one way or another.

(Delaney) An eyewitness remembered what happened when the creatures invaded Manchester.

(Peter Webster) “They come down on their little threads hanging from the trees, and it’s like walking through a cobweb. And then they’re in the roads and the sidewalks, and getting squished, and it was pretty messy.”

(Delaney) Peter Webster is the Town Manager in Manchester. It’s near the center of an infestation of forest tent caterpillars.

It began last year, and runs in five or six year cycles. The caterpillars favor maples, and defoliate thousands of acres every year. The trees grow new leaves, but sugarmakers are advised not to tap the trees stressed by the caterpillars. This infestation is moving north year by year, but it has not peaked, and so the message, for Manchester and other towns too, is, they’ll be back.

The question about Vermont Yankee at the beginning of the year was: Will the state’s nuclear power plant win approval to increase its power output by 20%?

The year’s highlight in the slow bureaucratic movement toward an answer, was a Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruling that said the Entergy company would have to provide more assurances that Yankee’s operators could handle different kinds of operational failures, failures that may occur as a result of pushing the plant harder to produce more electricity.

By the Middle of December it was clear that Entergy had fielded those questions adequately, and that approval for the increase was going to come through, even though the formal language had not yet been issued.

Deer season ended with one of the lowest buck harvests since the Forties, due in part to significant rule changes that almost didn’t get made.

Early in the year the Fish and Wildlife Board heard extensively from hunters and the professional Fish and Wildlife staff about changes in the herd management program, and then ignored some of the central recommendations it had heard. After intense pressure, the Board did agree to ban the taking of spikehorn bucks, and made other changes designed to improve both the herd and the harvest of bigger bucks in the future.

After a three-year gestation in a waterfront shed in Burlington, the canal schooner Lois McClure emerged into the light, and into the waters of Lake Champlain. It took most of another year to prep the replica vessel for its maiden voyage, retracing the journeys of boats just like it a long time ago. For a hundred years, canal schooners were the big trucks of northern commerce.

(Captain Roger Taylor) “Never been through the Champlain Canal, never been down the Hudson River.”

(Delaney) That’s precisely where Captain Roger Taylor took the Lois McClure, down through the locks that hadn’t seen anything like his vessel for almost a century.

(Taylor) “These locks are user-friendly. The walls are smooth. The lock keepers are friendly, which lock keepers aren’t always all over the world. But these lock keepers are friendly and helpful. So, the biggest challenge will be in maneuvering the boat, particularly if the wind is blowing across the lock. That’s the challenge.”

(Delaney) The challenge of boat-handling. The challenge of the voyage itself was education. Lake Champlain Museum director Art Cohn was the boat’s godfather.

(Cohn) Most people have no idea that wooden ships once were out here by the hundreds, and the thousands and people find that just interesting, and informative. It’s been very gratifying to see how much they appreciate it

(Delaney) VPR’s Lynne McCrea went through the locks and was aboard again when the Lois McClure reached her destination in New York.

(sound of kids calling out in distance )

(McCrea) Shortly after getting underway, a group of children on shore notice the boat as it travels by. The McClure gives a toot on its horn and the children shout out goodbye, and thank you .

(Delaney) And this was the year we discovered that the despised sea lamprey we thought was an intrusive species in Lake Champlain is actually a real Vermonter, and has been here for ten thousand years.

And at least two men were willing to say they had seen Champ in the lake, and someone noted that an obscure class of waterbug thinks milfoil is fine dining.

For VPR News, I’m Steve Delaney.

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