Conservation Currents


September 2006

by Shelly Stiles

"Art isn't easy," wrote songwriter Stephen Sondheim. On-the-ground conservation often isn't either. Take, for example, the recently completed Twin Rivers habitat restoration project on the Batten Kill. The Bennington County Conservation District (BCCD) served as project manager, but it took a veritable who's who of conservation organizations and friends to make the project happen. (A short list would include the Green Mountain National Forest, the VT Department of Fish & Wildlife, the Batten Kill Watershed Alliance, the Orvis Company and hundreds of its customers, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Trout Unlimited, local contractors and farmers, and many riparian landowners. Whew!) As Sondheim also said, we project partners understood that "every moment makes a contribution; Every little detail plays a part; Having just a vision's no solution; Everything depends on execution; Putting it together, that's what counts!"

Collaboration is the key to making conservation progress. Consider these other recent examples from the BCCD annals.

Native biodiversity in many of the natural landscapes here in Bennington County is impoverished by invasive plants. Such unwelcome guests are common along roads and trails, in logged areas, in abandoned agricultural lands, and, notoriously, along streams and rivers.

Last summer, the Green Mountain National Forest, with help from the Student Conservation Association and BCCD, surveyed invasive plants on the headwaters of the Batten Kill - on the Gilbert and Goodman and Tanner and Mad Tom and Bromley and Bourn and Mill brooks and more. (Many invasive plants move downstream, and so management requires a top-down approach.) Our surveys confirmed what we'd guessed was true: that Japanese knotweed, a pernicious threat to aquatic resources elsewhere in Vermont, is just getting a toehold in the Batten Kill headwaters; that if we act soon, we may be able to control it here.

We learned more as well. We discovered breached dams on tiny streams in the middle of nowhere; derelict cast-iron structures miles from a road; washed-out rail crossings; rotting cut stumps many feet across; precipitous boulder falls; and swimming holes! A recent series of presentations on headwaters themes allowed us to share these sorts of secrets with the general public. (Thanks to Hildene, Green Mountain National Forest staff, the Vermont Loon Recovery program, and author Bill Gove for their help.) We took advantage of the presentations to mention our headwaters invasive plant initiative, and to ask for help when we begin to devise a control strategy in the months ahead.

At one presentation, the Green Mountain Club's Stratton Mountain summit caretakers reported on the encroachment of purple loosestrife on their mountaintop. (This species seems to be moving up the mountain along the ski slopes via seed carried by the ski company's equipment.) The caretakers worry that, should the plant reach the summit, its seeds could be moved by hikers along the Long Trail. And so, because neither art nor conservation is easy, and because the caretakers must carry all their supplies up to their summit shelter, on a Saturday shortly thereafter I found myself walking up the mountain, carrying a gallon of vinegar to the caretakers. (USDA studies have confirmed that some weeds, when young, can be killed by a vinegar drench. And most organic gardeners feel comfortable using it.) The caretakers will apply the vinegar next spring, and describe their efforts to those who come along. Maybe they'll also pass around an article we're writing for the Green Mountain Club, on hiking boot and hiker clothing weed seed hygiene. It'll be one more case of innovative collaboration, of every moment making a contribution, of putting it all together. While that's what's hard, that's what counts when it comes to conservation today.

Shelly Stiles is the district manager of the Bennington County Conservation District, whose mission is promoting rural livelihoods and protecting natural resources in southwestern Vermont. See our new website at

This column appeared in the Bennington Banner in October 2006, as one of the BCCD's Conservation Currents pieces, a bi-weekly feature written by BCCD board and staff members since August 2006.