A Special Group of Wild Walkers

Our Wild Walkers program took place on Wednesday this week as a part of a partnership with the Vermont Wilderness School. For children ages 10-14, the day's agenda included knife and fire skills plus a lot of fun and free exploration time. It was a fabulous day. Amy Hyatt from VWS and Kimberly O'Connor from the museum helped campers use coal from a fire they built along with knives to create their own spoon from cedar wood.  

They started a fire right off so it would prepare the coals they needed for burning their own wild spoons. Amy gave a knife skills lesson, then everyone got in the own "blood bubble" to start carving. Each kid got a cedar stick and balanced a hot coal on it to burn the spoon's bowl. Then they used a straight knife to whittle down the wood to spoon size, followed by smoothing the rough edges with sandpaper and lastly a good oiling.  Then they headed off to the woods to play "woodland bingo" and "capture the flag".

When they returned they rekindled the bonfire. Kids practiced using strikers to spark onto tiny bits of char cloth nestled in birch leaf and birch bark tinder bundles which they blew to grow the flame. 

Group leaders reported that this particular group really jelled. Kids started the day as strangers and ended as friends who shared a life changing experience in nature. 

We recently stumbled upon a great article about how to teach the art of tracking to children and how we can connect our youth to the natural world through this skill. Written by Linda McGurk, "Animal Tracking with Children: A Beginners Guide" gives some great tips for tracking and engaging our senses while in the outdoors. Check it out if you're interested in introducing tracking to your child or picking up new skills yourself!

Our next Wild Walkers program is schedule for this summer on July 19th. Learn more>


Brave Bears Enjoyed Warm Temps On Their Snowshoeing Adventure

We feel lucky that we were still able to put our snowshoes to work this past week at our two environmental education programs, Brave Bears and Wild Walkers, that we held to coincide with local schools' winter breaks. 

We welcomed an excited group of naturalists ages 6-9 on Tuesday for our Brave Bears program. Our campers started the day with an environmental education lesson that detailed how animals survive in the winter and included the clues that we can look for in our search for our furry friends during this cold season. The campers then enjoyed time exploring and playing outside. They all had a great time playing "Red Light, Green Light" on snowshoes. While hiking our Fairy Trail, we found fox, coyote, squirrel and deer tracks.  We ended our day by listening to author Charles Norris-Brown read his story "Did Tiger Take the Rain" about drought in Nepal. Thank you Charles for sharing your work with our group! 

Learn more about our Wild Walkers program that took place on Wednesday, February 22nd.>

Coming Together for Kindred Spirits

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With sunny skies and springs like weather program Kindred Spirits participants on Saturday, February 18th enjoyed a short presentation by environmental educator Jay DeGregorio about Vermont animals' winter adaptations and tracking. After, they strapped on their snowshoes to explore one of Grafton Pond's great trails.  Beside seeing coyote tracks and evidence of some woodpeckers work they learned about snowshoeing techniques and tree identification.

Kindred Spirits is a monthly Saturday program series designed to build a greater understanding between all creatures of the Earth by exploring the mysteries of nature. By offering a shared experience that draws families together, participants will develop a stronger kinship with our Earth and each other. Programs will take place rain or shine, with hands-on activities both indoors and out. 

Upcoming Talks & Workshops for Adults

Celebrating its 5th season this year, our year-long speaker series for adults is aimed at heightening awareness and understanding of the planet’s most valuable natural resources and threats posed due to climate change.

The winter lineup will feature nationally known naturalist and distinguished wildlife tracker, Sue Morse; biologist, field naturalist and writer, Bryan Pfeiffer; award-winning author and organic orchardist, Michael Phillips. 

These speaker programs are geared for adults and children over 10. Light refreshments will be served. 

Sue Morse, nationally known naturalist, wildlife biologist and photographer, will present a program entitled, “Animals of the North, What Will Global Climate Change Mean for Them?” Taking place at the Cavendish Elementary School, the presentation includes remarkable images of animals in both the arctic and northern habitats.


Organic orchardist Michael Phillips, winner of the American Horticultural Society Book Award, will present “Growing Healthy Fruit Trees and Berries the Biological Way” on March 10th.

Bryan Pfeiffer, biologist, field naturalist and writer, will present “Birds, Butterflies, Backyards and Beyond,” a fresh view of the wild right outside your backdoor. With vivid images from nature and tales from the frontiers of wildlife science, Pfeiffer will offer practical advice for creating wildlife habitat in our own backyards and developing a wildlife ethic on a warming planet. 


On Saturday, March 11th, Phillips will offer a workshop entitled “Creating a Fruitful Landscape: A Field Intensive” for a maximum of ten people at Soul Song Farm.

The Nature Museum is proud to co-sponsor these two events with Michael Phillips with Soul Song Farm of Chester, owned by Jeff Hanavan and Kate Lunde. 

Twigs & Stems // February 2017

Here are a few links from around the web that caught our attention in recent weeks. Have you seen something that stuck with you that you'd like to share? Post it in the comments! Love what you see here? Follow us on Facebook, as we often post these goodies as we find them. 

From National Geographic's "Best Photos of 2016". Photo by Ami Vitale.  


Instagram Find: @chasingamoment features whimsical nature drawings

Instagram Find: @chasingamoment features whimsical nature drawings

Deer Are Big Business With No Big Predators

By Bob Engel
Marlboro College Professor Emeritus of Biology and Environmental Science

The New England deer herd is large.  What’s large? Healthy Native American forests in the lawsuit I mentioned last month had one deer/ square mile.  What’s the Vermont herd?  After a mild 2015 winter, one estimate put the herd at 145,000 deer.  Vermont is comprised of 9,623 square miles.  Therefore, we have 15 deer per square mile (more, probably, because deer don’t do well in cities, lakes, or interstates).  That’s almost twice the density of the deer herd (8/sq. mile) that brought the law suit in the Wisconsin National Forests.  The scientists there showed a real problem, and we have one here.

So why are there so many deer in Vermont?  Easy, the State and we make money off of them, a lot of money. According to the 2011 publication of "Hunting in America: An Economic Force for Conservation", Vermont made $192 million dollars from everything from licenses to lunches; from guns to granola; from gas sales to truck sales.  Almost 2000 jobs were supported in the process, and $14 million were paid in State and local taxes.  Bambi is big business.

But doesn’t Lyme disease cost money to treat? And if deer are even just half of the Lyme problem, how does the hunting income compare to treatment costs for the disease?

In 2015, the treatment costs for all Lyme in the U.S. was $1.3 billion dollars, or about $3000 per patient.  Vermont reported 599 Lyme patients in 2014.  So 599 times $3000 per patient means that someone forks out $1.8 million to treat Lyme per year.  And this is conservative, is it not?

These were 599 confirmed and probable Lyme cases; how many more fly under the medical radar for at least a year? Further, what are the added costs of Lyme morbidity when the disease escapes treatment and becomes chronic?

In any event, my back-of-the-envelope calculations show that Vermont (the State and anyone else who sees deer hunter dollars) gets about 100 times more from hunting than it spends in the direct costs of treating Lyme.  Further, if deer and their ticks are only a fraction of the problem, the ratio of monetary benefit to cost gets even larger.  Thus, there is little economic incentive to cut down on the deer density.  People want their deer more than they fear the ticks.  And between us chickens, a lot of people want their deer to come easily — open the door and have it jump in — so we’re just going to have to fence our gardens.

One final point?  Currently, we humans are the primary predators of our deer.  The occasional killing by gray wolf-gene-carrying coyotes in deep snow or the odd spring fawn by black bears probably occurs.  But without either wolves or mountain lions here, it’s up to us (only in the fall) and particularly harsh winters to cull the herd. 

The field of ecology has not yet settled the argument about whether predators control their prey.  Several long-term studies have show that ungulate prey are more likely controlled by the availability of food than by their predators.  Here in Vermont we humans have created ideal habitat for deer — a lot of edge with abundant, succulent growth resulting.  If we had wolves and mountain lions in the State, we might be able to actually ask the ecological question.  In the meantime it’s hunters with rifles, muskets, and bows that kill deer.  What might be the outcome if we were to reintroduce top predators to help with the job?  We could then bask in the idea — as is Yellowstone National Park — that we again have a “complete” system.  Sorry, don’t hold your breath.  

“But they kill us, too.”  Poodles regularly go missing outside of Boulder, Colorado, but people don’t.  Since 2000, in the whole of North America only three people are known or believed to have been killed by Mountain lions.  The corresponding figure for Gray wolves is two (one in Alaska, one in Alberta, Canada).

So compare all of five apex predator human deaths in the last seventeen years with 114 Lyme-certified deaths between 1989 and 2004.  Could these reintroduced predators, coupled with human predation, reduce the Vermont deer heard enough to have an impact on Lyme?  Maybe, but between the income from “easy” hunting and the ancient, deep-brain terror of top predators, we will ignore the data, retain our incomplete forests, and live with a lot of deer.

To Our 2016 Donors: Thank You!!


As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, The Nature Museum depends on the generous support of our larger community. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who gave to us in 2016, whether through our Annual Fund Drive or in the lead up to our largest community event, The Fairy House Festival.

Their generosity enabled us to purchase new books for our Mighty Acorn pre-school age programs; hands-on items about bats used during our environmental education lessons and new displays for our rotating exhibits. These funds are critical to the financial health and sustainability of our organization.

As environmental educators, we make a difference every day in Grafton and far beyond. Last year we hosted Grafton Elementary School’s 1st and 2nd grades for our Fort Building Program and we received the following feedback from one of the visiting teachers: 

Not only did the students learn a lot about engineering and working as a team, but they also had a great time out in the woods. It is hard to get them to work on a math problem together but look at them now. This program addresses Next Generation Science Standards for Engineering in a really fun way and keeps our students thinking!

The big-heartedness of our donors builds a stronger conservation and stewardship community by supporting the diverse outreach initiatives of The Nature Museum.  

February brings another jam-packed month. Our 2017 season of public walks and talks for adults, youth and families feature experts naturalists from throughout New England.

In conference rooms, in classrooms, and in the field, The Nature Museum is helping keep the wonder, scientific study, and stewardship of our natural world alive.

Again, many thanks for your support.  It means the world to us and to all of the people who experience our programing.  I hope we will see each other at more of the Museum’s fun and informative camps, workshops or public events.