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Wildlife Watch: Grant allows inventory of rare plants in plain sight

Published: Sep. 1, 2020 at 5:05 PM EDT
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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Fish and Wildlife has received federal funding to research rare plants in the state -- plants that many of us are likely to have seen without even knowing it.

The Colchester Causeway is an iconic spot in Vermont that sees hundreds of visitors walking and biking along on a summer day. As people come for views of the lake, there is something else they may be missing.

“For folks on the bike path -- they are going to see the wildlife here, they are going to see the scenic beauty of the marsh,” said Jeff O’Donnell with the Lake Champlain Lake Trust

The trust took over the land in 1997 and manage the land that is owned by the town of Colchester. Normally these marshy areas don’t get a lot of human interaction, but on this day, wildlife officials are taking a closer look.

“This is a site that has significant wetlands -- both emergent wetlands and a narrow band of lakeside flood plain forest -- and it also has some shrub swamp. But it’s a big wetland complex along the lake and it’s one that we have been studying a lot recently, both along the lake and some of the big marshes, and lakeside floodplain forest,” said Everett Marshall, the information manager for natural heritage inventory with Vermont Fish & Wildlife.

Marshall and Vermont botanist Bob Popp are working together on the $90,000 grant from the EPA. “It’s an EPA wetlands development grant that’s helping get information to our state wetlands program, and this information will be used in conservation planning and regulatory planning,” Marshall said. Their mission -- to study the rare plants and preserve them. “Part of it is figuring out, first of all, is it truly rare? So, that’s part of this study -- to understand, get into areas, the less inventoried type communities. So, we have done a lot of work on wetland and forested communities and we are learning more about these marshes and shrub swamp communities by spending time out in them.”

“I’m looking for some of the rare plants that we know are here to re-verify that they are still here and also looking for new ones,” said Bob Popp said. And some of those rare plants are hiding in plain sight.

“What we have here is a population of heart-stemmed bull brush, and this is a rare plant in the state. People might bike by on the bike path and this looks like any other bow brush, and bow brush is common on Lake Champlain and inland as well,” Popp said. “You might think there is a lot of this here, how can it be rare? Where it occurs, it tends to be fairly abundant, so you would call it locally common, but it’s very restricted to only a few populations along Lake Champlain, otherwise it doesn’t really occur here.”

Popp says that the goal is to study plants like this one and understand where they are and the role they play in the local ecosystem. “Some species are intricately rare, and a lot of the rare plants in Vermont are rare because we are on the edge of their range and there is not much we can do about that,” Popp said.

A study of rare wildlife that is closer then you might think.

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