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Biodiversity

06/13/05 12:00AM By Vern Grubinger
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(HOST) With the return of warm weather, commentator Vern Grubinger has been visited by some of his wilder neighbors,
and they've gotten him thinking about Vermont's biodiversity.



(GRUBINGER) It looked like she was asleep, but she was dead.
I stroked her fur, and she was still warm. Our cat had been killed quickly and cleanly by the fisher. My wife almost saved her. She heard a commotion outside, but by the time she got out the door, the fisher was carrying the cat away. She chased after it along the stone wall, and the fisher dropped the lifeless cat.

A couple of nights later, we heard a different kind of noise outside. The trash cans were being knocked over. "Must be a raccoon," my wife said, as she grabbed a big flashlight and aimed it in that dir- ection. The activity was actually by the composter.

"That's strange," I said. "They've never turned the lid and opened it before." As light fell on the animal, it moved over to the big sugar maple and stood up. It was about five feet tall. It wasn't a raccoon; it was a black bear. The next day, I secured the compost lid with bungee cords.

It's easy to forget that we share the landscape with many other creatures, caught up as we are in non-natural aspects of the world so much of the time. But there are thousands of organisms living alongside us, and our activities affect them in one way or another.

In Vermont, it's estimated there are 426 species of vertebrate ani- mals, another 15 to 20,000 invertebrate animals, like insects or crayfish, and about 2,000 kinds of plants. And that's not counting algae, mosses and fungi.

Vermont's rich variety of life, or biodiversity, depends on many different kinds of ecosystems. A report from the Vermont Bio- diversity Project describes eight regions in the state that have unique combinations of climate, geography, topography and vegetation. These are the Champlain Valley, the northern and southern green mountains, the northern and southern Vermont piedmont, the northeastern highlands, the Taconic Mountains and, just to the east of them, the Vermont Valley.

Within these regions are 80 different kinds of natural communities of plants and animals. Some are relatively common, like the alpine meadow and the northern hardwood forest, while others are rare, like the valley clayplain forest and the pine-oak-heath sandplain forest.

Losing any of these communities would mean a reduction in Vermont's biodiversity. That would be a bad thing, because bio- diversity is essential to healthy ecosystems, which we depend upon for clean air, clean water and a host of other benefits, from medicines to building materials to tourism.

Vermont has a lot to be proud of for what we've done to protect biodiversity, by controlling pollution and conserving land. But the real challenge is to make economic growth compatible with conservation of our natural treasures. That's not easy. One is measured over the short term, in dollars and cents. The other isn't.

With an ear to the ground, this is Vern Grubinger.

Related Link:
Vermont Biodiversity Project

Vern Grubinger is the director of the UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.
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