The U.S. Forest Service is stepping up its efforts to keep people from feeding bears.
The service announced Wednesday it was issuing a “forest order” in the Green Mountain National Forests, elevating several of its recommendations for keeping food away from bears into requirements. Visitors to national forest lands must “store unattended food in bear-resistant containers, in a vehicle, in solid non-pliable material or suspend food at least twelve (12) feet off the ground and not less than six (6) feet horizontally from any object. In addition, all refuse containing food materials or containers shall be deposited in receptacles provided for that purpose, removed from the Green Mountain National Forest to be disposed of properly, or stored in the manner prescribed for food.”
U.S. Forest Service spokesman Ethan Ready said the order was issued largely as an educational measure.
“The purpose of the order is primarily as a cultural tool,” he said. “Land regulations in most cases are heavily dependent on goodwill and people using common sense and doing the right thing. ... That said, if there’s a habitual offender out there, we would deal with that on a case-by-case basis. We’re not going to be out there doing anything more than we have in the past.”
Ready said the Forest Service would install bear-proof containers — for holding food and disposing of trash — at several sites.
The summer has seen an increase in reports of bear encounters, including an incident where a bear was killed by game wardens after attacking a through-hiker at a shelter on the Long Trail. Mark Scott, wildlife director for the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife, said bears likely entered hibernation hungry last year because of a below-average crop of beech nuts, acorns and similar wild plants.
“Last fall was one of the worst years we’ve encountered in Vermont for those foods,” he said. “Bears really rely on that a lot.”
It was also, Scott said, a late spring, so the bears faced a shortage of the plants they typically forage on upon coming out of hibernation.
“Whether it’s birdfeeders that are up, garbage around the house, compost ... that’s where bears are,” he said. “They’re going anywhere trying to find food.”
The more they rely on food left by humans, he said, the more they become habituated to it.
Forrest Hammond, the wildlife biologist in charge of the state’s black bear project, said four or five bears have been put down by the state this year, which he said is a jump from normal. He said problems with bears should be reported to a game warden via the State Police or directly to the department online at vtfishandwildlife.com/learn-more/living-with-wildlife/living-with-black-bears.
Hammond said he is hopeful that the remainder of the season will see the opposite of the conditions that left the bears so hungry.
“I’m really hoping in the next couple weeks, we’ll see several species of berries ripening,” he said. “Blueberries, blackberries and black raspberries are ripening now. ... Those are important foods to the bears where they can get a lot of sugar, a lot of energy, really quick. ... It looks like it’ll be a good nut year, especially beech nuts. ... Hopefully, a lot of those bears that are coming into human neighborhoods will feed on those wild foods instead.”
Now that former Christ the King School and Mount St. Joseph Academy principal Sarah Fortier has spread her wings and flown to the sunshine state, former Christ the King School vice principal Lila Millard and recently-appointed MSJ vice principal Mike Alexander are stepping up to be the new acting interim principals for Rutland’s Catholic schools.
“I fought for it,” Millard said of her interest in the CKS position. “I’m fully vested in this school.”
“I am excited for the opportunity, no different than when I was excited about being the vice principal,” Alexander said. “If you give me this opportunity, I’m going to take it, and I’m going to run with it.”
Earlier this year, Alexander, formerly the head of School Counseling for the Slate Valley Unified Union School District, accepted the vice principal position at MSJ.
While the diocese of Burlington and its newest superintendent for the 11 Catholic schools across the state, Dr. Jeanne Gearon, decide whether to keep the merged position Fortier left behind to create separate principalships, both Millard and Alexander said they’re thrilled to take up the emerald torch leading Rutland’s religious educators.
Gearon could not be reached for comment.
Their immediate positions aren’t necessarily permanent, Millard said, and the two will supervise their schools without the backing of an assistant principal for the time being as they adjust to Fortier’s sudden departure. But the interim principals on Wednesday expressed nothing but preparedness, excitement and calm.
With two master’s degrees and 25 years in the Army, Castleton native Alexander said at his core he falls back into a rank system supporting the leader above him, and doesn’t shy from leadership missions. His most recent appointment came just in time for his official principal license to go through.
“Since I retired from the Army in 2013, my personal, professional development has been geared towards ultimately being a principal,” Alexander said.
Millard and Alexander praised the culture of education requiring specially-tailored leadership rooted in compassion and a deep understanding of the developmental stages of learning.
“I want the general public to understand that we are here, first and foremost, for educating students,” Millard said. “We can offer some additional supports public schools can’t.”
The conversations and lessons structured around a faith-based education system serve a different portion of the developing brain relating more directly to the moral and ethical notions of spirituality, according to a doctrine welcoming of all faiths, Millard said.
“The philosophy that we come together with ... is, you’re making choices for your life,” Millard said. “But you’re also making choices that impact so many things around you.”
Millard said she’d like to see CKS further invest in advanced technologies — many students already have access to Chromebooks — but also strengthen students’ connections with trade schools and institutions of higher learning, especially given the recent closure of three of Vermont’s colleges.
“I’d like to grow not just in numbers but in the things we can offer our kids,” Millard said. “We bring technology to these kids ... (but) how can we bring more?
“It’s not just getting the stuff, it’s also teacher education.”
Unlike many public schools, neither MSJ nor CKS are reallocating mass funds for para-educators, Millard and Alexander said, largely due to the vast diversity of education — even across a single grade — that isn’t as present in a tuition-driven school, as well as the learning addressed by the spiritual and emotional facets of a Catholic-based, private education.
Clarendon native Millard has been serving CKS since 2007 after graduating from Mill River High School. She started as a parent volunteer at CKS before she began working with kindergarten students on a case-by-case basis.
By fall of the next year, Millard had become the librarian while she finished her bachelor’s degree and student-teaching requirements.
“I finally figured out how much I enjoyed being in the school,” Millard said of her decision to pursue higher education later in life. “(A degree) doesn’t hurt.”
With her BA in hand, Millard decided she would eventually like to explore teen education, and shot for her master’s to be able to teach at a higher level. She served as interim principal before Fortier was appointed as principal at both schools.
Millard said she will complete her second master’s degree this year in educational administration.
Millard and Alexander said they had hoped to form new school-to-school collaborative initiatives before, and will now work closer together to cultivate the seamless transition and tradition of students from CKS to MSJ, and secure educational opportunities beyond — all while continuing as students themselves in their new capacities, they said.
“The person who says he knows everything about leadership is lying to your face,” Alexander said. “It is a lifetime endeavor.”
A planned solar project has been scaled back after the Board of Aldermen refused to sign off on a declaration that it was on a “preferred” site.
Charles Coughlin, who owns the city’s two McDonald’s restaurants and Central Vermont Motorcycles on West Street, planned to build a solar array on land behind the motorcycle shop. Through net metering, it was expected to provide enough power to cover his needs at the three businesses.
Toward that end, Coughlin and Philip Allen, of Same Sun of Vermont, approached the board earlier this year asking the board to sign a letter saying the property met a set of criteria set out in state law making it a “preferred solar site” — a designation Allen said was intended to encourage solar development on industrial properties rather than agricultural ones. Allen said the designation had no bearing on the approval process, but did affect the rate at which Coughlin would be paid for the electricity, to the tune of an estimated $50,000 over several years.
The board declined to take any action on the request and declined to say why — the issue was discussed at a committee-level executive session, which none of the board members present have discussed openly. The most Board President Sharon Davis has said was that it was “thoroughly vetted.”
So, Allen said, the project was scaled back to a size — 150 kw — where it automatically qualified for the preferred status without a sign-off from the board.
“The reason it’s a preferred site is half the power is going to the motorcycle shop and half the power is going to the local McDonald’s,” he said, adding that they just installed a smaller array atop the motorcycle shop but, ironically, the power from it cannot go to the shop because of the arrangement for the ground array.
Allen said he remains mystified by the board’s decision.
“There have been some legitimate reasons to object to solar arrays,” he said. “This is as pure a case as you can find.”
While Allen and Coughlin never got an explanation, the City Planning Commission did. City Attorney Matthew Bloomer met with the commission in executive session after the commission sent the Board of Aldermen a letter questioning the decision. Commission Chairwoman Susan Schreibman, reached Wednesday, said there was little she could say about the discussion.
“I will say that the city needs to be proactive in its planning for renewable energy,” she said. “The Planning Commission does understand the need to plan for projects, renewable energy projects, and will address this in the rewrite of the master plan.”
Schreibman said the commission will not undertake a full-scale rewrite of the master plan until it is done rewriting the city’s zoning laws, which won’t happen before next year, but that she hopes the preferred siting issue can be addressed as one of the minor revisions the plan will need for re-adoption next year.
Bard is back
Marble Valley Players will present Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” at West Rutland Town Hall Theatre at 7 p.m. Aug. 2 and 3 with a Sunday, Aug. 4 matinee at 2 p.m. B5
Free drop-in classes with minerologist Alice Blount, Tuesdays and Thursdays through Aug. 15. Classes recommended for children grade 3 level and above. 12:30-2:30 p.m. Vermont Marble Museum, 52 Main St., Proctor, firstname.lastname@example.org, 459-2750.