New efforts to help a rare plant species survive in Vermont

CONCORD, Vt. (WCAX) A plant thought to have disappeared from Vermont was unexpectedly rediscovered. Now, the state is taking action to help this rare species survive. Our Christina Guessferd shows you how agencies are joining forces to protect the plant.

"This remains the northernmost population in the United States that we're aware of, so that's pretty exciting," said Bob Popp, a botanist with Vermont Fish and Wildlife.

Popp says he never thought he'd see a climbing fern in Vermont again.

"We were actually in the process of removing it from the endangered species list because we thought it was extirpated in the state, and then we got this news and it was like, 'Whoa! Stop that process. It's still here,'" he said.

The plant is growing along a Vermont Electric Power Company power line in the Northeast Kingdom. A consultant for the utility made the discovery and a state botanist confirmed the fern's rare appearance and alerted Fish and Wildlife. It's an example of VELCO and the state's partnership in action.

"Our primary goal is to be able to transmit power safely and reliably throughout the state of Vermont. To do that, we have to manage trees," said Jeff Disorda of VELCO.

That's where Disorda and his team of foresters come in. They walk these rights-of-way regularly, mapping out the land where these power lines stand, noting where vegetation is getting too tall and which vegetation needs protection. When they come across threatened species like the climbing fern, they share the data with Fish and Wildlife.

"We're really trying to create habitat for species like blackberry, raspberry, goldenrod, ferns. And we're trying to remove things like oaks, maples, ash, those tall-growing species that are going to get up into the conductors," Disorda said.

So utility companies like VELCO can keep the power on and plants like the climbing fern can be preserved.

"I wouldn't want to lose it. It'd be like saying well who cares about Mount Mansfield or Camel's Hump because we have the Adirondacks and we have the White Mountains? Well, I like to have mountains in Vermont, too. I like to have these rare plants in Vermont, too," Popp said.

After nearly 10 years working together, VELCO and Fish and Wildlife officials say the benefit of that collaboration is clear because they're seeing plants flourish along utility lines like these.