This summer brought a rash of unusual weather between a late season frost, wildfire smoke from up north and historic rainfall. And the wet weather in particular could have some big implications as leaf-peeping season gets underway in Vermont.
Josh Halman is a forester with the Vermont Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation. He also writes the department’s weekly fall foliage report.
Halman recently spoke with Vermont Public’s Mary Williams Engisch about the upcoming foliage season and the natural factors that play into foliage brilliance. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mary Williams Engisch: Before you spill the beans on what kind of colors Vermonters can expect this year, can you sort of set the scene and take us into the process of how leaves change? Like a lot of it has to do with rainfall. So how does moisture interact with the length of night, cooler temperatures, all those other factors?
Josh Halman: You know, the way that leaves change color and that whole process, like you mentioned, is geared by the change of day length, as well as the change in temperatures.
And that combination is what really cues trees to start going through this process of not only leaf color change, but also when to drop their leaves.
What we saw this year with all the rain that we had during the growing season was that, you know, in some places, trees were a little more stressed than others.
If they had waterlogged roots in particular, that could stress the tree out. And as the season went on, we in some locations saw a little bit of an uptick in what we call foliar pathogens. So fungi that might be on the leaves. And so some people have reported seeing that in various parts of the state right now.
And that result of having excess rain is that you are vulnerable to those sorts of pathogens coming in on some foliage. And although we are seeing this, you know, on street trees — as you drive around you might see some — it’s not the case for all trees in Vermont. And we have a lot of forest in Vermont, and a lot of that forest is not as heavily affected by these fungal pathogens as some of the trees that we’re seeing on the streets.
And what are we actually seeing when we notice leaves shifting into those beautiful reds and oranges and yellows?
Two things are really happening. So the yellows and oranges are actually compounds that tend to be in the leaves, depending on the species throughout the growing season. But they’re all masked by the chlorophyll in the green that’s on those leaves.
And so when we have fall temperatures and a shortening day length, the chlorophyll starts to degrade and it kind of unmasks those colors that are present in those leaves.
The beautiful reds that we see on the landscape, that’s actually a compound that can be generated this time of year. And oftentimes, you know, there’s only certain species that do produce those reds. And maples, obviously, are probably the most famous for it.
But when you have these cool nights, and then sunny days, that’s really the combination that can get those reds really popping.
I understand you got to survey Vermont forests from an airplane a couple of weeks ago. Is that something that you do each year? Or was that different for this year?
We monitor the health of the forest every year from an aircraft. And it depends how long that takes to actually map the entire state. This year, we went a little later, for a number of reasons.
And so we just happened to be up there for one day in September where we’re actually able to get a sense of what’s going on in parts of the state. And we were able to fly the Northeast Kingdom and saw some reds that were already on their way.
The colors that we saw that day in particular, you know, it was just pockets really. And that was the first week of September. So that is pretty early to see things. But we’re expecting there to be a good foliage season in Vermont.
I mean, depending on where you are, there’s always something that looks great on the landscape with Vermont foliage, which is great. So we’re fortunate to have that. And then those trees that don’t have those fungal pathogens going on, the forest looks really good. And we’re expecting a good season.
Is there a benefit to the tree? When the leaves change color, does this changing leaf color attract pollinators? Is it helpful for insects or animals? Or does it benefit the forest floor in any way? Like what’s the point of all of this dang beauty?
Well, a lot of it is what’s happening when those leaves are changing color, especially with the degradation of chlorophyll and that sort of thing, is that some of those nutrients and the carbohydrates that are generated by the trees that are at that point still in the leaves — they’re going through a process known as resorption.
And those nutrients and carbohydrates can be transferred or trans-located into the tree and stored over the wintertime. So it’s kind of a benefit that we get to see these colors and there’s there’s some functional role that those reds can actually play as sort of — there’s some research that shows that it can be kind of like a sunscreen, or maybe a deterrent for insect feeding on some foliage as well. But the real deal is that the trees are finding a way to get those important carbohydrates stored for the winter in the tree.
That is cool. Can you help us map out which trees turn which colors? You mentioned those vibrant reds often are associated with maples.
Oaks can can have those red compounds as well. And you can see those sometimes being a little darker red, even sometimes almost bordering on purple.
Ash trees are the same way with that kind of coloration. When we get into species like birch species, those are typically more yellow. And the sugar maples have kind of the whole spectrum. You have your yellows, your oranges, your reds.
And what I tend to think of is kind of the the beauty of Vermont’s diversity of species is that we have conifer trees also that are peppered in there. And so you have these greens that are juxtaposed with those brilliant colors. And that’s that’s what makes it so pretty here.
Are there any environmental factors that you’re kind of waiting to see shakeout that could tell you even more about the foliage season?
So the weather that we’re experiencing right now from kind of early September until mid October is what really drives how vibrant the foliage is going to be. So if we are able to get those cool nights and bright sunny days, then we’d expect the foliage to be fantastic.
Do upcoming fall conditions impact the length of leaf peeping season? Or does it also affect how vibrant those colors might be?
Yeah, the upcoming weather can influence the vibrancy of the foliage, if we do get those cool nights and sunny days. Another factor that comes into play, of course, is when these leaves are going to drop. And when we do have — you know whether it’s storms or high winds come through late in the foliage season, that can make a quicker end to the foliage season. But we can’t really predict that until we have that weather present.
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Burlington residents react as Mayor Weinberger ends his term
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – After Mayor Miro Weinberger’s 12-year term, some Burlington residents say they’re sad to see him go.
“I was disappointed, he did a great job, and I hope we find someone else who can do what he was doing.”
Burlington resident, Allyson Murdock says he appreciated the mayor’s conflict resolution in city council and his progressive policies. Looking towards the next election, she says she wants to see a similar leadership style.
“I think dealing with the homeless situation would be a good thing to deal with, in a progressive way, just like Miro was trying to do as well” said Murdock.
She also says she’d like to see the next mayor take steps to making housing in the area more affordable for everyone. Karen Stewart feels similar – sad to see the mayor go.
“As an individual and as a public servant he’s done a great job, and he’s kept the city going through a lot of rough years.”
Stewarts says she feels the mayor handled the COVID-19 crisis well, managing city council the best he could and appreciates the improvements to the Burlington Airport.
She adds that changes of leadership is essential and there’s a lot she’d like to see from the next mayor.
”We’ve got to do something about the houseless population here, and we’ve got to do something about the drug problems” said Stewart.
Not everyone we talked to had glowing reviews for the mayor’s time in office.
Eric Hodet says he feels like the mayor does not do enough of everything – and the things he does do are not as helpful as they could be. He says the mayor did not make the efforts to change the homeless or drug crisis.
“From what I’ve gathered it doesn’t seem like there’s been a huge effort towards changing those things, or addressing the issues behind them” said Hodet, of Burlington.
He says he’s ready for someone new. “I’m definitely ready for a fresh face. Again, it feels like the issues are just not being addressed or just being made worse sometimes.”
There are many people around the city who declined to talk on camera because they had a conflict of interest — either they worked with the city, or they didn’t feel comfortable commenting on this topic.
Many also said they did not know much about the mayor and his time in office,
Copyright 2023 WCAX. All rights reserved.
State treasurer supports legislation to divest Vermont pension fund from fossil fuels
A bill introduced in the statehouse earlier this year would divest the state’s pension fund from investment in fossil fuel companies by the end of the decade.
It has the support of State Treasurer Mike Pieciak, who spoke about the proposed legislation at a conference on Vermont climate policy this week.
“The first thing as treasurer is to do no harm to the pension system — I don’t believe this bill does that,” Pieciak said. “Then you also need to look at the financial risk of investing in fossil fuels over the short, medium and long term. And I think this bill creates a framework to do just that and to reduce our risk over time.”
He said the climate advocacy group for Third Act first introduced the legislation.
“I’m thrilled that our treasurer is supporting the bill that was really our first piece of political action,” said Beth Sachs, a member of Third Act, who’s been working to promote energy efficiency in Vermont since the 1980s, and helped create Efficiency Vermont.
Several other municipalities have already passed similar legislation or voluntarily committed to divesting from fossil fuel companies in recent years — including Maine, New York State, New York City, Quebec and the Vatican.
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Man Busted With 26 Pounds of Cocaine in Kayak on Vermont Lake After Paddling From Canada
A man was arrested earlier this month after he allegedly snuck 26 pounds of cocaine into his kayak on Lake Champlain in Vermont after paddling into the U.S. from Canada.
Freddy Rodriguez, 38, of West Warwick, Rhode Island, was charged with drug possession with the intent to distribute cocaine over the incident, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Federal authorities said in a press release after learning a kayaker had crossed into the U.S. from Canada via Lake Champlain, they spotted Rodriguez at a rented camp in Highgate, Vermont on Sept. 18 and into the early morning of Sept 19.
Agents allegedly observed him taking a bag into his kayak, and when they confronted him, he tried and failed to flee. The kayak, authorities said, was full of bricks of cocaine.
Federal agents did not say if Rodriguez had brought the cocaine from Canada or if he was picking it up in Vermont.
Rodriguez faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison if convicted and up to 40 years because of the amount of cocaine he allegedly had on him.
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