Deb Markowitz, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources; Mary Ellen Copeland and her husband, Ed Anthes; and Michael Snyder, commissioner of
Deb Markowitz, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources; Mary Ellen Copeland and her husband, Ed Anthes; and Michael Snyder, commissioner of the Ver­mont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, at the awards ceremony in Montpelier. (Submitted photo)
Friday December 14, 2012

DUMMERSTON -- The nine members of Dummerston Conservation Commission and a Bellows Falls woman were among those named 2012 Vermont Tree Stewards this week.

The conservation commission won in the "volunteer group" category, while Polly Thompson garnered the "unsung hero" award.

They and three other honorees were invited to a ceremony Wednesday at the Statehouse in Montpelier.

"These are the people who go out on a limb for trees because they understand the benefits trees provide, and they recognize that these benefits are maximized through careful planning and active stewardship," said Lee Krohn of the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Council.

The council, organized under the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, gives the awards annually to recognize "community tree champions."

Dummerston Conservation Commission was cited for a variety of work. But officials singled out the group's efforts to monitor for the hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive tree pest.

The commission "has become a model for citizen-scientist monitoring programs for invasive tree pests in the state," the forestry council said in announcing the award.

Mary Ellen Copeland, the commission's chairwoman, said volunteers are concerned about protecting the town's many hemlocks.

"We have a team of about 50 volunteers who went out in the woods," Copeland said. "Everybody who signed up committed to turning over 200 hemlock branches."

That survey, unfortunately, located "a number of woolly adelgid sites," Copeland added.

"It's a concern," she said. "We will be working closely with the state as they figure out how to address this issue."

The commission also has undertaken a Dummerston Biodiversity Project, an exhaustive inventory of the town's "natural heritage."

"We continue to work to really get to know Dummerston," Copeland said. "We feel we really need to protect the ecosystem we have here. And we can't really do that unless we know what we have."

Monthly educational programs are part of the commission's interaction with residents. January's session will focus on backyard birds, Copeland said.

Other commission activities have included the Prospect Hill Stewardship Project; monitoring of vernal pools; removal of and education about invasive species; and working on a town conservation plan.

Copeland said she hopes the award highlights the important role a conservation commission can play in town governance.

"It means a lot, because we've been working really hard," she said.

Other members of the conservation commission are John Anderson, Ed Anthes, Dana Aquadro, Bill Johnson, Lynn Levine, Jane Michaud, Bill Schmidt and Betsy Whittaker.

More information on their work is available at www.dummerstonconservation.com.

The forestry council also honored Thompson, a Bellows Falls resident since 2007.

Thompson has spent years encouraging urban-tree growth, an effort rooted in her time as a member of a group called Branch Out Burlington (BOB). She was instrumental in creating the Burlington Community Tree Nursery.

"The nursery remains a cornerstone of BOB that continues to foster great community participation," state officials said.

Also in Burlington, Thompson coordinated grant writing, worked to raise funds for an equipment shed, organized tree-planting events and established a "Tree Keeper" program aimed at enlisting nearby residents to care for trees.

Since moving to Windham County, Thompson said she has worked with the Rockingham Tree Committee.

"I've tried to help in any way I can to develop and support the urban forests that we have in Bellows Falls," she said.

Thompson said she also is working with Ray Perry, the local tree warden, in an effort to establish a tree nursery. Compared with the cost of purchasing a mature street tree, growing one in a nursery represents "a terrific cost savings," she said.

She added that she did not consider herself a "tree person" before she got involved in Burlington but has "learned by doing" while supporting an important cause.

"The trees contribute so much to the community," Thompson said. "I feel as though I'm learning constantly as I'm doing this work. So that's a reward in itself."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.