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LaPlatte River Marsh Wetlands Deserve Class I Protection

By Jon Groveman, policy and water programs director at Vermont Natural Resources Council

Any Vermonter who has spent time hiking, hunting, fishing or boating can appreciate the importance of wetlands. Wetlands provide habitat for a wide variety of fish and wildlife, absorb water to minimize flooding, naturally filter pollutants, and provide beautiful natural areas in our forests and fields. In the late 1980’s, recognizing the value of wetlands, Vermont established an important, forward-thinking program to protect wetlands that are particularly unique or rare natural areas.

Under Vermont law, either the state or any resident can petition for enhanced protection for Vermont’s most valuable wetlands. To qualify for this enhanced protection, called Class I, a petitioner must demonstrate that a wetland is exceptional or irreplaceable in its contribution to Vermont’s natural heritage based on the functions and values that the wetland provides. To date, only six wetlands have been designated for this enhanced protection since the inception of the Vermont wetlands program.

At Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC), a Vermont based environmental advocacy organization that has been working to protect Vermont’s environment for more than 50 years, we have a history of petitioning to designate key wetlands as Class I. We’re judicious in the wetlands we petition for Class I status, focusing on only those that are truly special natural areas in Vermont. After significant evaluation VNRC has submitted a new petition to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) to designate Class I protections for the LaPlatte River Marsh in Shelburne.

The LaPlatte River Marsh is truly an oasis in Chittenden County, Vermont’s most populous county. Providing invaluable habitat for migratory waterfowl, the wetland complex is located at the end of the LaPlatte, a river that extends 16 miles from Lake Iroquois to Lake Champlain and drains 34,137 acres of Champlain lowlands.

Nearly 150 acres in size, the marshes and floodplain forests of the wetland are regularly flooded when the level of Lake Champlain rises, making it an ideal home for plants and animals that prefer wet conditions. At least sixty species of birds, twenty species of mammals including otter, mink, and muskrat, and fifty species of reptiles, amphibians, and fish can be found in the LaPlatte River Marsh. Those number include at least 22 rare, threatened, or endangered plant and animal populations. Moreover, LaPlatte’s wetland ecosystem is essential to helping filter and clean the water that empties into Lake Champlain and is part of nature-based solutions for maintaining water quality. Managed by The Nature Conservancy of Vermont, LaPlatte River Marsh can be enjoyed by foot or by canoe, and Class I designation would ensure that the unique and valuable wetland can thrive for generations to come.

ANR has set a public hearing on VNRC’s Class I petition for the LaPlatte for 5:30 p.m. on August 30, 2017 at the Shelburne Town Offices. We urge the public to come out a support this petition. It is vital that Vermont recognize its unique natural areas to ensure we don’t lose these special places throughout our beautiful state.