Conservation Currents

Winning Teams

October 2010

By Shelly Stiles

I recently put together a brief annual report on my organization’s accomplishments in the last fiscal year. The report template is very simple – lots of listing this and listing that. The lack of adornment makes it easier to combine the reports of all fourteen Vermont conservation districts into a document we can share with our legislators. (Each district gets a small allocation annually from the state, and we want the state to know how well we spend it.)

But the template results in a boring read, and this year we were asked to enliven the report with one story of how our work changed a life.

I found it easy to choose one heartwarming story from among several I’d collected. But in thinking over the matter, I saw that the one person touched more than any other by the work we do is me. And it’s mostly because of the people I have the privilege and pleasure to work with in close collaborations formed over the years.

One team focuses on habitat restoration on the Batten Kill. On that team I play ball with fisheries biologists from the Green Mountain National Forest and the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, with guys from the Southwestern Vermont chapter of Trout Unlimited, with board and staff from the Batten Kill Watershed Alliance, and with people in charge of permits at the Army Corps of Engineers and VT DEC. I work with scientists who understand how rivers create pools and riffles. We talk about red-stemmed dogwood and mayfly hatches and young-of-year brook and brown trout. We congratulate ourselves on our successes (this year’s fish counts will be released soon), and console one another over our various setbacks.

The river corridor team I belong to thinks about rivers at a larger scale, from high up where we can see patterns which effect the river’s in-close ecosystem. Has it been straightened? Widened? Is sediment accumulating in one place after being scoured from another? We talk about corridor protection and easements, landowner agreements and berm removal. This team includes the habitat restoration folks, as well as people from Vermont Land Trust, municipalities, the state’s River Management Program, and our Regional Commission.

Another of my teams tries to keep forests forests, by offering workshops for landowners, forest professionals, and the general public on everything from songbirds to the Use Value Appraisal Program. Since we founded the Bennington County Sustainable Forest Consortium in 2007, we’ve given nineteen workshops to more than 500 people. When our team of foresters, wood products makers, wildlife habitat enthusiasts, log buyers, non-profit managers, and landowners get together, we talk about sugar maple regeneration, biomass, and stream crossings. We extol our working landscapes. We marvel at trees.

The agriculture team I’m part of includes many farmer friends, folks from the Northeastern Organic Farming Association of Vermont, our Natural Resource Conservation Service staff, and the creators of our local producers website,, among others. When we get together we talk about Caribe potato yields, getting hay in, the price of milk, and the eat local movement. We are grateful for those who raise our food and fuel, and amazed at how hard they work.

I would name names, but these teammates know who they are. They might not, though, know how much I value the relationships we share and the good work they make possible. And you the reader might not know with what skill and dedication these people serve Vermonters and the wild and working landscapes we care about. These are All Stars, folks. These are winners. Go team!

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.