Hardwick, News

Conservation Commission Unveils Natural Resources Inventory

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photo by Matt Peters
Matt Peters’ explored the Lamoille River’s floodplain forests below the East Hardwick falls during his ecological inventory of Hardwick’s natural resources.

HARDWICK – Matt Peters of Woodbury presented results of the town-wide ecological and natural resources inventory report he has been conducting at the request of Hardwick’s Conservation Commission (HCC). The presentation, held at the Memorial Building on April 6, offered the first chance for town residents to hear what Peters learned from his study.

Peters is a consulting ecologist and botanist who began his study early in 2023 and conducted field studies that summer and fall.

The study, funded by the select board with American Rescue Plan money, will help residents better enjoy and steward their town. Details of the study will support municipal land use planning by enhancing the knowledge and understanding of some of the most ecologically significant places in Hardwick.

by Matt Peters
Tuttle Pond is ringed by patchy Intermediate Fen and Northern White Cedar Seepage Forest.

Peters’ executive summary offers an overview of his work and findings.

He first identified and prioritized the best sites for field studies to find natural communities of state and local significance, and other significant and sensitive features.

Other aspects of the project emphasized education and community engagement. A public kick-off presentation allowed Peters and HCC members to incorporate local knowledge in project findings.

Two public field walks were well attended at sites of diverse ecological interest. One trip explored Cooper Brook and the nearby slopes of Buffalo Mountain from Atkins Field. The other explored the Lamoille River floodplain forests below the falls in East Hardwick.

Site visits with landowners were often opportunities for mutual knowledge sharing.   

Thirty-eight forest habitat blocks with potentially ecologically significant features were identified that encompass most of the larger areas of natural habitat in Hardwick, providing valuable perspectives for land use planning and habitat connectivity. Those blocks cover about 16,218 acres, roughly 65% of Hardwick. The remainder of Hardwick’s nearly 25,000 acres are mostly altered by human use.

Buffalo and Jeudevine Mountains are of greatest importance for large-scale habitat connectivity and wildlife movement. A large Northern Hardwood Talus Woodland was identified on Buffalo Mountain.

Numerous new features of state and/or local ecological significance were identified in every visited block.

photo by Matt Peters
Wildlife sign and an alluvial shrub swamp found along Hardwick’s Cooper Brook by Matt Peters during a Natural Resources Inventory conducted for the town Conservation Commission.

Wetlands are abundantly and widely scattered across the Hardwick landscape, heavily contributing to biodiversity and habitat values, as well as to ecosystem services benefiting humans, such as water purification and flood mitigation.

Thirty-two of Vermont’s 120 currently recognized natural community types and variants are found in Hardwick, including 22 wetland types and 10 upland types. Eighteen of these are considered rare to uncommon at the state level.

As a result of this study, the number of known natural community types of state-level significance in Hardwick increased from one to eight. The number of state-significant natural community occurrences increased from one to 14. Twenty-five additional locally-significant occurrences of 12 more natural community types were also documented.

Natural community highlights from this study show an unusual abundance and quality of uncommon Northern White Cedar Swamp and Northern White Cedar Seepage Forest natural communities, several rare Boreal Floodplain Forest areas and other rare and uncommon riverside communities.

Prior to this study, the Hardwick landscape was known to support six total occurrences of five rare or uncommon species, with no state-listed Threatened or Endangered species.

There are now 77 documented occurrences of 28 known rare and 17 uncommon species documented in some fashion.

Two new state-threatened plant species, Bog Wintergreen (Pyrola asarifolia) and Marsh Horsetail (Equisetum palustre) were found.

About half of the sensitive species are primarily associated with wetlands and aquatic features, underscoring the importance of these areas for biodiversity.

Other highlights among newly-documented rare species include the discovery of the tiny Four-Toothed moss (Tetrodontium brownianum) in talus on Buffalo Mountain. Newly found in Vermont at several sites in 2023, this cryptic moss was only historically known from New England.

Hardwick boasts New England’s only currently known populations of regionally rare Grove Hawthorn (Crataegus lucorum), known from early successional habitats near the Lamoille River. Many of the rare and uncommon plants are associated with calcareous or enriched habitats that can at least partially be attributed to underlying calcareous Waits River Formation bedrock.

As revealed through this study, Hardwick hosts myriad unique and ecologically important natural features, from vast forest blocks of Northern Hardwood Forest to the tiniest rare mosses. Through improved knowledge provided by this study, the Hardwick community can continue to wisely use, manage, and conserve and celebrate this diverse and exciting natural heritage.

Peters wrote, “Substantial volunteer work by HCC members and other community members was essential to this effort.”

The HCC was established in 2019 to “establish community responsibility for Hardwick’s natural resources.”

The full Hardwick Ecological Inventory Report is available digitally on the town website.

Paul Fixx is editor of The Hardwick Gazette and lives in Hardwick.

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