Monthly Archives: March 2010

A big fish and some thoughts on deer hunting

Jim Kambour, left, hauled this lake trout out of Lake Willoughby on the last day of the ice fishing season. At right is Jason Goodwin who was fishing with him. The fish was 26 and a half pounds and 41 and a half inches long. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar 3-26-10

Did you see the big fish?  I had fun delivering the Chronicle last week with that giant lake trout on the front page.  I love that people think of us when they catch a great big fish and bring it to the office so we can take a picture to share with the world.

There is nothing like a great big fish or a deer meeting to get Vermonters excited.  Even when things are relatively good, 40 people show up at a meeting to talk about the deer herd.  Each has a pretty strong opinion and each has an idea of what should be done to keep the deer herd healthy.

It’s no wonder really because fresh venison or fish that you caught that day is food for more than your body.  It’s food for the spirit too.  A meal of fresh venison steak, potatoes from the garden, and fiddleheads is a meal to savor, a meal to remember.

You feel self-sufficient in a way that’s just far more satisfying than spending your paycheck on a package of hot dogs.

It’s almost time to start looking for those little fiddleheads.  Wild leeks will be popping up soon after that.  This weekend it’s supposed to be cold, but it does seem that this winter’s strength is about gone.  That is just fine with me.  The lack of snow means a bit less drastic mud season.  I’m okay with that too.

The deer seem to be getting through this mild winter really well.  Posted here is my story from Tuesday’s meeting.  The full report is available from the Fish and Wildlife Department and is full of interesting statistics if anyone wants more details.

You can find the full report at the department’s web site:

I’m starting to think the proposal to require hunters to wear bright orange is a bad idea.  What do you think?  How about the spike horn regulations?  Should they be changed?  Post a comment; I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Wildlife biologists want to keep deer herd healthy, the Chronicle, March 24, 2010

by Bethany M. Dunbar

“Our deer herd is as healthy now as it’s ever been,” said Shawn Haskell of the Fish and Wildlife Department at a meeting to talk about the whitetail deer herd at Lake Region Union High School on Tuesday evening.

A total of 15,237 deer were killed in all seasons last fall.  Rifle and archery season numbers were down 18 percent from 2008, but muzzleloader numbers were up 8 percent due to some better hunting weather by then.  During rifle season, warm weather and lack of snow combined to create a difficult hunting season, but by muzzleloader season in December there was snow on the ground.

About 40 hunters came Tuesday to hear about the statistics and to give the Fish and Wildlife Department and three board members who were on hand some of their opinions.

No one argued with Mr. Haskell’s assessment about the health of the herd, but there was plenty of debate about what should happen to various hunting rules and seasons in the future.

A restriction on spike horns has been in place for five years and is expiring, and the board will consider various options to keep it, change it, or drop it.

The board will also look at moving seasons around to accomplish the task of keeping Vermont’s deer herd healthy.

“I think the deer hunting right now is better than it’s been for years,” said Larry Burdick, who said he hunts in Brownington.  “I’d like to see it stay for another five years,” he said of the spike horn restrictions.

Mr. Haskell said the board is looking at data that shows that keeping people from shooting larger spike horns might be counter productive, because the smaller yearlings are being protected, mating with does, and creating smaller bucks and bucks with smaller antlers.

The 2009 hunting season saw fewer deer killed, but biologists said that is what they expected because the winters in the two years before that were severe.  Still the kill was not down as much as often happens after two severe winters, they said.

And many of the deer killed in 2009 were good sized.

“The number of bucks reported weighing more than 200 pounds nearly doubled in 2009 compared to 2008,” says a 19-page harvest report prepared by the department.

Mr. Haskell noted another sign of the herd’s health — analysis of does killed by cars shows more fawns per doe than in years past.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, there were 1.22 fawns per doe, he said.  Now there are 1.55.  He said that doesn’t sound like a big difference, but it means there are lots more fawns being born.

“We’ve got 20,000 more fawns hitting the ground in the spring,” he said.

Roy Kilburn of Berlin said the board should not combine muzzleloader and archery seasons.

“We’re down 12,000 archery licenses,” he said.  He said bow hunters will go to New Hampshire instead where they can hunt more days.

Warden David Gregory was asked if the state will ever put an age restriction on youth hunters or if the children should be required to pass a test for shooting accuracy.  Currently, if a child can pass a test for knowledge of hunting and gun safety, that child is allowed to hunt with a parent or mentor.

The warden said he doesn’t believe an age restriction is necessary.  He teaches the classes and finds lot of eight-year-olds who want to take the course, but about half of them fail the first time.

“It’s not whether you’re hitting a target — it’s whether it should be a target, to me,” he said.  He said New Hampshire is much more restrictive and says children can’t take the class until they are ten years old and can’t hunt by themselves until they are 16.

If they haven’t started by then, he said, kids will probably not take it up and will play soccer instead.

“I think soccer is going to end the world,” he said, which drew a laugh.

Warden Gregory mentioned that there is a shortage of wardens right now.  Vermont needs about four or five more, and he encouraged anyone interested to look into it.

“It’s the best job I ever had,” he said.

He said he wished he had brought a brochure, and he was featured in it.

“You don’t have to be as good looking as the people in the brochure,” said Cedric Alexander who also works for the department.

One of the questions for the Fish and Wildlife Board or the Legislature is whether or not hunters should be required to wear fluorescent orange.

“I think it should stay a personal choice,” said board member Grant Spates of Derby.  He said he wears orange if he is hunting somewhere where there might be more people, but at his camp he usually wears camouflage.

“It’s back to what you said.  You need to identify your target,” he said.  If people are required to wear orange and someone gets shot who is not wearing orange, then can the person who did the shooting blame the victim?

Some in the room said anyone who shoots someone accidentally needs to go to jail, and those on hand seemed to agree.

On the subject of diseases, Mr. Haskell asked the hunters to use synthetic urine to cover their scent instead of real urine packaged and sold from another state because it could carry a disease.

“You can use your own, I’ve heard.  I don’t know,” he said.


Confessions of a methane junky

by Bethany M. Dunbar March 19, 2010

How did I get to be such a methane junky?

I know it’s bad because the other day I got an e-mail with a link to a You Tube video of a tour of a methane plant that is making electricity and I got very excited.  Your might say I was jonesing.

It’s a tour of the methane plant at the landfill in Coventry.  Washington Electric Cooperative had the foresight to invest in a technology that takes the landfill gas and makes it into electricity.  At this point, according to the video, the cooperative gets 70 percent of its electricity from this plant.  The board of directors chose this technology because it’s renewable, economical, and predictable.

My addiction is primarily a function of thinking that methane digesters could save the family farm and possibly a mountaintop here and there.  Cow manure makes methane too.  How about our municipal septic systems?

Maybe methane digesters won’t save all the remaining family farms, but they could definitely save a few more here and there.  Save the farm, save the working landscape and our rural culture, our economy, and that means save Vermont.

As for the mountaintops, methane is a much more reliable source of electricity than the wind.  Methane digesters work around the clock.

I have a feeling that my publisher, Chris Braithwaite, is a methane junky too.  While on vacation to visit his new grandson on the west coast, he went to see a system that collects manure from half a dozen small dairy farms and puts it into a digester to make electricity.

He’s going to do a story about it, so you see, he just couldn’t stand not to.  Ha.

Posted below is the story I did for the Chronicle recently about the farm methane digesters in Vermont.

Keeping reading the paper and maybe next week we’ll have a story about the system out west.

Here’s the link to the Washington Electric Cooperative video:

A final note — congratulations to Craftsbury speller Mael LeScouezec who won the contest for best speller in Vermont.

Joseph Gresser is working on a story about him for next Wednesday’s paper.  He wrote about Mael and his teammates in 2008, and that story is posted on the Chronicle’s web site. I hope you’ll check it out.

Thanks and have a great weekend.  Spring has sprung, no doubt about it.  Anyone have signs of spring to report?  I have heard redwing blackbirds and a VERY loud woodpecker.

Meanwhile I noticed some other methane videos after watching the WEC one.  Gotta go!

Matt Maxwell of Coventry is a dairy farmer making electricity with methane gases.

Dairy farmers are making more than milk these days, the Chronicle, February 10, 2010

by Bethany M. Dunbar

NORTH TROY — Reg Chaput’s target date for making electricity with his methane digester is August 1.  Chaput Family Farms is the second large dairy farm in Orleans County to venture into the realm of energy farming.

It’s very likely not the last.

Vermont is leading the nation in this technology with at least six methane digesters making electricity right now and ten to 12 more coming on line soon.  There are about 150 digesters in the entire United States, according to Christopher Bray, a state representative in New Haven.

Mr. Bray lives in the same district as one of the first of these units to start making electricity in Vermont, the Blue Spruce Farm, the Audet brothers’ farm, in Bridport.  Mr. Bray has just announced that he will run for lieutenant governor.  If elected, he will consider the $60,000 annual salary to be full-time and year-round, and he will devote the bulk of his time to issues of agriculture and forest land.

He has sponsored a bill, H.566, that would increase prices the farmers are receiving for the electricity generated by the digesters.

Reg Chaput’s timing turned out to be perfect.  But others who pioneered the technology in Vermont and who have helped other farmers learn about it got a much lower rate.  H.566 would ensure that farmers would get 16 cents a kilowatt hour.

Mr. Chaput has a guaranteed price of 16 cents a kilowatt hour for the next 20 years.  The market price for electricity dropped this past summer, leaving other farmers with a price of just 3 cents.

Mr. Chaput has been working on a plan to put in a digester since 2007.  In 2008 he went through the United States Department of Agriculture application.  In 2009 he applied for a license.

“It takes a year to get your grants and loans lined up,” he said.  “You can’t expect to do it in a year or two years.  Ours has actually gone very smoothly.”

The system is going to cost $1,832,587, and about 48 percent of it will be paid for by grants.  The Chaputs milk 930 cows and have 1,750 animals in all.  About 1,450 of them are on the main farm site and their manure will be contributing to the electricity production.

“Our estimate is the pay back will be less than three years,” he said.

With 2009 being such a horrible year for farmers’ milk prices, Mr. Chaput said he is just happy to have made it through the year.

“The vendors have been really good to work with, really understanding,” he said.

The financial pay back to the farmers for a methane digester is more than the electricity.  Once the gases and liquids are extracted from the manure, dry matter left behind, which looks kind of like peat moss, is available to use as bedding.  Bedding costs — typically for sawdust — on a large dairy farm can run up to $80,000 or $100,000 a year.

“We should be generating enough to sell to other farmers,” said Mr. Chaput.

He said these days sawdust is not only costly, it’s extremely hard to find.

“My sawdust supplier informed me that I’m not going to see another load until spring,” Mr. Chaput said.

He has been getting bedding from the Maxwell’s Neighborhood Farm in Coventry, which has the other methane digester in Orleans County.  He mentioned that if anyone thinks the dry bedding is dirty, it’s not.  Farm milk is regularly tested for somatic cells, an indicator of bacteria problems, and Mr. Chaput noted that his cows have had low cell counts regularly for the last 12 month and just received a gold certificate from Dairylea for quality milk.

The digesters also save the environment from the methane gases normally emitted on a farm, and that means the odor is greatly reduced.  Liquid that comes out of a methane digester is enhanced as fertilizer.  The nitrogen is immediately available to plants, according to Mr. Bray.  That means plants can absorb it more quickly and it’s less likely to cause pollution.

Mr. Bray said there is some new research going on using the liquid created by methane digesters to grow algae and make biofuel.  He said the potential for electricity from methane on existing large and medium farms in Vermont is probably about 25 megawatts.

Another fringe benefit of the system is waste heat generated by the process of making electricity.

Matt Maxwell in Coventry says he underestimated the amount of waste heat his system would produce.

The Maxwell farm’s digester has been running for about a year, and Mr. Maxwell is very happy with it.

“We make enough electricity to pay our loans off every month…. We’re breaking even basically.”

The generator is 225 kilowatts, and it’s making between 200 and 225 kilowatts each hour.  He estimates that the system makes enough electricity for the farm plus 200 houses.

The Maxwells have 800 milking cows, and he is hoping the payback time will be about five years, if all the pumps and motors last.

“Having to buy a $90,000 pump could set us back,” he said with a smile.

The Maxwells have a fixed contract with Vermont Electric Cooperative.  They get 8.5 cents a kilowatt plus four cents from the Cow Power program.  Cow Power generates income from consumers who prefer to buy electricity from farms and sends extra on to the farmers.

“We’ve had a few minor issues,” with the generator, Mr. Maxwell said, but Martin Machinery of Pennsylvania has stood by it.

“There’s so much heat that can be captured by this system,” Mr. Maxwell said.  He is thinking about adding a greenhouse to grow some plants with the waste heat.  They are using it to heat the farm’s water, the milkhouse and a work shop, but there’s a lot more that could be heated.

If he was doing it over again, he would have built a bigger building to dry out the bedding with radiant heating in the floor.

“We didn’t put in our radiant heating initially,” he said.

The Maxwells are taking waste water from a chicken plant in Portland, Maine, about 6,000 gallons a week.  This has helped with making electricity, but he has found that he has to be careful about dumping a lot of anything in all at once.  If you do that, it creates a spike in the gas that sets off an alarm.  His system is set up so the alarm calls two cell phones.

In order for a dairy farm to add a methane digester, someone at the farm has to be willing to learn it and run it.  Mr. Maxwell clearly enjoys this part of his business, but he mentions that it takes up a chunk of time each week and people should not underestimate that.  He figures he spends about ten to 12 hours a week on maintenance.  Things need to be oiled, checked, drained, and cleaned.

Bill Rowell in Sheldon added a methane digester three years ago.  He said he is very pleased with it, and it is turning out to be “the environmental tool that we hoped it would be.”

Mr. Rowell, who grew up in Albany, milks about 900 cows and has 150 dry cows and 650 replacement heifers.

He said it has been difficult to know how much time he and his staff have spent on the system.  Many days it goes along just fine, but “if you have a problem you may have four men tied up for a day.”

The original deal for the price of electricity was that the farm would get 95 percent of the wholesale price of electricity.  But then there was an unexpected drop in price, due to the recession, Mr. Bray said, and the fact that more natural gas has come on the market and the spot market price for electricity went down from ten cents a kilowatt hour to three cents.

Mr. Bray said farmers who are starting up now get a guaranteed price of 16 cents for 20 years, but those who signed contracts earlier were getting much less.  His bill is aimed to bring the old contracts up to the price being paid for the new systems.

“Here we have some of the most progressive farms,” he said, and they were facing a triple whammy of making a huge investment just as both milk prices and electricity prices fell to below the cost of production.

Mr. Rowell said it costs him about 13.75 cents a kilowatt to break even.

Right now the existing methane digesters have an interim rate established by the Public Service Board of eight cents a kilowatt plus the 4 cents for the Cow Power credit.  That rate is in place for a six-month time period and will allow the Legislature to consider H.566.

H.566 would establish a standard offer for producers of renewable energy with a plant capacity of 2.2 megawatts or less.  There is a ceiling of 50 megawatts of power from these small producers.

Mr. Rowell said there is a lot of support for these projects in the Legislature, and he commended Mr. Bray and Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie in particular for their efforts.

“We have a good relationship with these folks,” he said.

On his web site, Mr. Rowell notes that his digester has made two million kilowatt hours of electricity consistently in the last year, enough to power 300 average sized homes.

“Additionally, during the past two and a half years we have shared our insight with over 10,000 visitors from 23 countries.”

Mr. Bray, who has a horse farm and serves on the Vermont Milk Commission, is determined to do what he can to help keep the farms going in Vermont.

“Eighty-eight percent of Vermont is covered by farms and forest.  It is a crucial part of Vermont’s economy and also our culture.  Not just lately but for hundreds of years,” he said.  “I’m not willing to sit by and watch it disappear.”

Mr. Bray said so far the Cow Power program has had good support not only from residential customers, who have signed up to pay a bit more for their electricity to support the farmers, but also from some Vermont businesses including Long Trail brewing company.

Citizen journalists

Jay Peak still has snow. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar, March 12, 2010

Lately I am hearing the term, “citizen journalists” to describe people who contribute to newspapers or web sites with local news.  They are not necessarily professional journalists, but they contribute stories about their home towns.

It’s something the Chronicle has been doing ever since the very beginning.  It happens all the time really, when a proud teacher or parent sends in some news about the kids, or when someone like Theresa Trotier in Newport sends in a column about growing up in Newport years ago.

Dick Drysdale at the Herald of Randolph likes to say that newspapers were the original social networking device.  The original citizen journalists were the ladies who wrote town columns.  Their phone numbers were in the paper, and if anyone went visiting relatives or had a gathering of some sort, they would call the town columnist and get a mention in the local newspaper.

At the Chronicle we still rely on our citizens journalists, and Town Meeting Day is the day of the year we rely on them the most.

On that week, we have to cover 20 town meetings in Orleans County and Brighton.  We do not have half enough editors and reporters to get to all those meetings, and we feel strongly that we want a personal report from each town.  A lot of the newspapers simply call the town clerk or a selectman and find out what happened, but we try really hard to get a story from each town by someone who actually attends the meeting.

And we did it again this year, thanks in part to some incredible citizen journalists.  It’s such a great paper to read every year because of the wide variety of writing styles and because you just never know what might happen at Town Meeting.

We also get some help in recent years from Lyndon State College students who are studying journalism.  This year’s students were exceptional, including two who were willing to stand up at the Brownington Town Meeting and admit having made a mistake in a budget story the week before.

If you missed the paper, check out the Chronicle’s web site where all these stories are posted.

This week was the basketball championships, and I want to say congratulations and thank you to the Lake Region Ranger boys and girls for an amazing season.  Both teams made it to the championship.  Neither team managed to come away with the top prize, but they had a great run.

We can never fit all our photos in the paper, so Joseph Gresser is posting some of the other photos on the Chronicle web site.

Apologies for somewhat muddy photos in the paper this week.  I will get better at Photoshop — I basically can’t get worse at it!  And apologies for missing the Barton Village Annual Meeting, we will get caught up on that one in the next paper.

Meanwhile enjoy the weird spring weather.  I hear the sap’s running, and I’m not talking about politics.


by Bethany M. Dunbar, March 5, 2010

This week I have the death of a horse to report and one big change at the Chronicle.

On Saturday, we woke up to discover that Music had died in the night.  On Friday she seemed fine.  She was 24 years old, a little on the skinny side, but she seemed essentially healthy and happy and the next day she was gone.

It was a shock, but I am telling myself that’s the way to go when it’s your time.  I have written about Music before on this blog — she was a retired standardbred racehorse and what a sweetheart.  I kept thinking of all the kids who had their first experience with a horse riding Music.  She was so calm, cool, and collected, she was also a great influence on my other mare, Daisy, who is a Morgan and a bit on the nervous side.

Music, last fall. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

I want to say thanks here to my neighbors who helped me get her buried right away.  I could not handle the thought of what would happen to her body if she didn’t get buried that day.  There are coyotes all around, I love to hear their crazy yips at night and in the early morning.  But I wanted to protect her body from them.

My neighbors Bill Wilber, David Young, and Dennis Gibson came to the rescue and brought up some heavy equipment to get her buried.  In the spring I will plant a whole lot of hardy flowers on her grave.  My friend Terry came over and we whipped up three candy apple pies for those guys.

Meanwhile my one remaining horse, Daisy, is pacing the fence.  I am hoping to not get another horse right away because times are tight.  It would save me a lot of money if Daisy is not too lonely.  We’ll see how it goes.

Jen and Bethany in proper mudminton outfits. Photo by Joseph Gresser

The big change at the Chronicle is that Jen Hersey Cleveland, my co-editor for ten years, is leaving.  She is taking a job at the Newport Daily Express that will offer her more hours and more experience reporting.  She will work with my old buddy Steve Blake who also used to work for the Chronicle and is now the editor at the Express.

I am going to miss Jen so much and have been thinking back on all the good times we had together.  April Fool’s is our one day of the year to get crazy and make stuff up, and Jen and I always had some good laughs over our jokes.  One year we decided Vermont needed a sport for mud season to bring the tourists here, so we invented mudminton.  One year we did a diorama of peeps and called our newspaper Peeple Magazine.

Jen, you’ll always be my peeps!  Good luck and we will see you out there on the beat.

The good news is that Tena Starr is coming back to the Chronicle.  Tena and I were co-editors years ago, and it’s wonderful to have her back with the paper again.  She is one of the most talented journalists I have ever known, and I’m so excited to be working with Tena again.

Working together in such an intense environment brings you very, very close to your coworkers.  To say that these two women are good friends of mine is a huge understatement of what they both are in my life.

Change is hard, but change can make us stronger.  As journalists, change is our lifeblood.  We would be nothing without it.

Wish us, all three, good luck.