Virtue by dfgh4bnmu


                                         By Tom Slayton
                                    Photographed by Jon Vachon

                           Is a       Bob Klein is walking along a
                                      deserted woods road in the town
                           Virtue     of West Haven when he comes
                                      to a sign that declares firmly in
              Working                 bold black type: “No Trespassing:
            quietly in                Extreme Danger to Personal
         the thickets                 Safety From VENOMOUS
         of land-use                  REPTILES.”
            Bob Klein                 It hardly even slows Klein down.
         has helped
                                      Which is mildly surprising,
                                      since he is well aware of what
                                      lies ahead: the dens of timber

40   •   vermont life                                            Autumn 2010   •   41
                              The signs have been posted by the      example. It is incredibly rich in both        their opponents. Even
                           organization he heads, the Vermont        animal and plant life, some of which          farming, under certain
                           Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.        is unusual or endangered, like the            circumstances, can create
 Protecting land in        Klein has been its director for more
                           than 30 years and was instrumental
                                                                     eastern timber rattlesnakes and the
                                                                     peregrine falcons that live above
                                                                                                                   a backlash.
                                                                                                                      Klein’s most bruising
                           in acquiring the property on which        them on the cliffs of Bald Mountain.          fight was over the Cham-
 Vermont rarely            the “venomous reptiles” live.
                              Klein breezes by the sign and push-
                                                                     There are more than a dozen rare
                                                                     plants or animals that live in the
                                                                                                                   pion lands — a complex
                                                                                                                   debate a decade ago that, in

 happens with a single
                           es through a brushy area to the base      Buckner nature preserve alone. “It’s          part, pitted loggers against
                           of a towering cliff more than 300         multilayered, a web,” Klein says. “It’s       pro-conservation forces.
                           feet high. Soon he and a visitor are      just so rich.”                                But even groups that might

 stroke of a pen.          clambering up the jumbled rocks at
                           the base of the cliff. He looks upward
                                                                       And that makes it a near-perfect
                                                                     natural area for the Conservancy to
                                                                                                                   seem like natural allies
                                                                                                                   can split over land use, as happened
                           toward the cliff itself.                  protect, because the overarching mis-        with the Conservancy’s most recent
 “Parcels in Vermont are     “They’re up there now, probably         sion of the global nonprofit organiza-        acquisition, Raven Ridge.
                           sunning themselves on those higher-
                           up rocks near their dens,” he says,
                                                                     tion is to protect the diversity of life
                                                                     on planet Earth — not just particular
                                                                                                                      Located in the Champlain Valley,
                                                                                                                   the ridge is an undeveloped 362-acre       While he
 small, you have to have   adding, with a touch of regret, “It’s     natural areas, not even landscape-            highland near the point where the
                           too chilly for them to be down this       sized areas, but special areas that           towns of Monkton, Charlotte and            obviously loves
 continuity of purpose     far today.”
                              He turns back and works his way
                                                                     support life itself in all its richness
                                                                     and diversity. It is that mission and
                                                                                                                   Hinesburg intersect. It is the home of
                                                                                                                   bobcat dens, the endangered Indiana
                           around the cliff to a point where he      his love for Vermont that have kept           bat and several rare plants. But when      wild Vermont
 and a                     and his companion can ascend the          Bob Klein on the job for decades.             the Conservancy moved to protect
                           mountain itself — Bald Mountain,
                           part of a huge landscape on the
                                                                       Klein is a calm, affable man with
                                                                     a pleasant smile and a shock of gray-
                                                                                                                   the area, local horseback riders pro-
                                                                                                                   tested because they wanted to contin-      and is devoted
 certain                   southern end of Lake Champlain            ing black hair. His personality is well       ue to ride through the area. The Con-
                           protected by The Nature Conser-
                           vancy. The organization owns more
                                                                     suited to his job. He is low-key, patient,
                                                                     intelligent and determined. He’s so
                                                                                                                   servancy argued that horseback rid-
                                                                                                                   ing can cause disruptions of natural
                                                                                                                                                              to preserving
 focus.”                   than 10,000 acres on and around Bald      soft-spoken that it’s sometimes hard          habitat — less intensive forms of use
                           Mountain — a sizable portion of the
                           town of West Haven.
                                                                     to hear him and he ponders his words
                                                                     carefully before he speaks.
                                                                                                                   such as hunting, fishing, hiking and
                                                                                                                   birdwatching are usually welcomed
                                                                                                                                                              it, Klein is
                              Although the “mountain” is only          But there’s a part of him that clear-       on Conservancy property — and ulti-
                           1,080 feet in height, the view from       ly enjoys a little risk. His hobby for a      mately Klein and his team prevailed.       no simplistic
                           the top is sensational. Cliffs drop       time was skydiving. And he obvious-          “There was locally divided opinion
                           away on two sides, and directly to the
                           west lies the long, riverlike southern
                                                                     ly wants to find those rattlesnakes.
                                                                                                                   about what should or shouldn’t be
                                                                                                                   allowed at Raven Ridge,” Klein says,       tree-hugger.
                           end of Lake Champlain. Most of the          Klein’s patience has served him            “but the broader consensus was that
                           landscape consists of folded hills and    well because protecting land in Ver-          the project offered so much for every-
                           forests that are part of the Conser-      mont is not something that often              one in the communities involved
                           vancy’s holdings, the Helen W. Buck-      happens with a single stroke of a pen.        that it should go forward and specific
 The Conservancy’s         ner Memorial Preserve.                    Buying property outright, or acquir-          management decisions be left to us.
 work reaches into            Although this area is picturesque,     ing an easement or the development            In other parts of the state, the local
 every corner of the       it is not much like the rest of Ver-      rights, can take years. The Conser-           issues might be around dogs, moun-
 state. At right, yellow   mont. It’s mostly low, rocky hills        vancy and Klein have spent more               tain bikes or logging, but in the end,
 markers indicate          interspersed with swampy bottom-          than 20 years assembling the huge            we usually persuade everyone to let
 natural areas the         land bounded by the Poultney River        West Haven preserve, and protecting           us make the call.”
 organization has had      and Lake Champlain. Nevertheless,         even much smaller sites commonly                                •••
 a hand in protecting.     it has become the crown jewel of The      requires long negotiations over sev-             Shelburne Pond was one of the first
                           Nature Conservancy’s holdings in          eral parcels of land.                         areas Klein worked on after he was
                           Vermont. Klein explains why:                Conservation projects, simply put,          hired in 1979 as The Nature Conser-
                             “There’s a lot of high, rocky land      are difficult. In fact, they often pro-      vancy’s first Vermont director. It is a
                           conserved in Vermont,” he says. “But      voke opposition — as do most land-            mile-long, almost completely unde-
                           there are not a lot of lowlands con-      use matters in Vermont. What is              veloped pond just south of Burlington,
                           served — even though the lowlands         Vermont, after all, if not the land and      Vermont’s largest city, and for some
                           are often the most biologically diverse   what it is used for: new homes? shop-        years it has been a natural outdoor
                           and important.”                           ping malls? ATV trails? quarrying?            classroom for University of Vermont
                              The West Haven land is a good          All have their advocates, all have            botany and biology classes. Lots of dif-

42 • vermont life                                                                                                                                                  Autumn 2010   •   43
New guidebook
published                                          ferent and unusual plants, birds and        waterfalls, old logging sites, large        Mountain.) Most recently, the Ver-
                                                   animals live in or near the pond and        timber-producing forests — even a           mont Chapter published a handsome
The Vermont Chapter of The                         its wetlands.                               Native American cemetery.                   guidebook to the Vermont holdings
Nature Conservancy is cel-                            Of course, so do people. And 25 of          In his time at the helm of the Ver-      it helped protect (see box). In a way,
ebrating its 50th anniversary                      them owned pieces of the land around        mont Chapter, Klein has also over-          the book is a summary of Klein’s
with a book that invites nature-                   Shelburne Pond — that’s more than           seen its growth. In 1979, he was the        contribution to Vermont. Elizabeth
lovers to visit more than 100                      two dozen separate negotiations that        chapter’s sole employee. Now he has a       Courtney, executive director of the
natural areas the Conservancy                      were started in the 1970s by UVM            staff of more than 20, based in Mont-      Vermont Natural Resources Council,
                                                   botany professor Hubert Vogelmann,          pelier with a branch office in West         said recently: “The people of Vermont
has helped protect in the state.
                                                   then chairman of the chapter. Con-          Haven. Education, habitat restoration,      owe an enormous debt of gratitude to
   The handsome, four-color
                                                   tinuing Vogelmann’s work, Klein             coordination with environmental             Bob Klein.”
book — “Places to Walk, Pad-
dle and Explore in Vermont” —
                                                   began buying important tracts in the
                                                   early 1980s, adding more later, as they
                                                                                               organizations and other activities are
                                                                                               now part of the Conservancy’s work
                                                                                                                                              Timber rattlesnakes, it turns out,
includes suggestions for pad-                      became available. Today the H. Lau-         in Vermont. And Klein has done just         are hardly the villainous monsters
dling trips to ponds and rivers,                   rence Achilles Natural Area, named          about every job in the organization         of popular imagination. Like most             Klein can
hikes to scenic mountain-                          for the man who helped finance the          himself, from closing land deals to        wild creatures, they are shy, intel-
tops, nature walks to places
where wildflowers blossom in
                                                   project, nearly surrounds the pond.
                                                   The preserve is almost — but not
                                                                                               licking stamps for the newsletter.
                                                                                                  For 20 years before hiring Klein,
                                                                                                                                           ligent and seek to avoid contact with
                                                                                                                                           people. Because they are predators —          drive almost
the spring or unique                                        completely — done. It has          the Conservancy in Vermont was              of rodents and other small animals —
plants or animals
                            the nature Conservancy
                                                            taken four decades to bring
                                                            it close to completion, a dis-
                                                                                               a volunteer organization. In 1975,
                                                                                               Klein, who was born in New York
                                                                                                                                           they are actually beneficial to humans.
                                                                                                                                           More to the point, they are an interest-
                                                                                                                                                                                         anywhere in
may be seen, and a
                            Places to Walk, Paddle          tinctly long haul. But that is a   and grew up in south Florida, came          ing, necessary part of nature’s beauti-
variety of wetlands,
caves and beaches.
                            and explore in vermont
                            50 th AnniversAry edition
                                                            typical pattern for The Nature
                                                            Conservancy in Vermont.
                                                                                               to Vermont with a master’s degree
                                                                                               in environmental management from
                                                                                                                                           ful and complex web of life.
                                                                                                                                              The Bald Mountain dens are located
   There are 105                                            The organization now owns          Duke University. He worked closely          at the extreme northern edge of the
natural areas listed,                                       more than 50 natural areas         with Vogelmann on recording natural         rattlesnakes’ range. They are fascinat-       and see at
some owned by The                                           in the state, and many have        areas. When the Conservancy decid-          ing creatures that are barely hanging
Nature Conservancy,
others that the Con-
                                                            outstanding tracts of land on
                                                            the margins that could still
                                                                                               ed it needed a full-time state director,
                                                                                               Klein was the obvious choice. Klein
                                                                                                                                           on to a piece of habitat in Vermont
                                                                                                                                           that seems to favor them. All of which        least one
servancy helped to                                          be acquired, though they are       and his wife, Jean Vissering, settled       is why Klein hoped to find some to
protect and are now                                         not a priority.
                                                              “Parcels in Vermont are
                                                                                               in East Montpelier, just four miles
                                                                                               from work, where they raised their
                                                                                                                                           show his companion. “They’re the
                                                                                                                                           signature animal of this area,” he said.
part of state or local
                                                            small,” Klein explained. “You      children, Nathan and Zanny, now in         “So it would be nice to see one.”
parks, or managed
by some other entity.
                                                            have to have continuity of
                                                   purpose and a certain focus.”
                                                                                               their 20s.
                                                                                                  How has he lasted 30 years in such
                                                                                                                                              It’s a bit of living science that he
                                                                                                                                          would like to share. Since his earliest
                                                                                                                                                                                         project the
The unifying factor is that in
every case, The Nature Con-
                                                      It is obvious that Klein possesses
                                                   both. The organization had five offi-
                                                                                               a demanding job? “Well, you have to
                                                                                               have patience,” he said recently. “And
                                                                                                                                           days in Vermont, scientific inquiry
                                                                                                                                           has been both a primary motivation            Conservancy
servancy was instrumental in                       cial natural areas when he was hired;       celebrate small successes.”                 for Klein and one of his primary meth-
acquiring and protecting the
land. “It’s a comprehensive
                                                   today there are 54. And instead of
                                                   about 500 acres, the Conservancy
                                                                                                  But small successes add up.
                                                                                                  Under his leadership, the Vermont
                                                                                                                                           ods. While he obviously loves wild
                                                                                                                                          Vermont and is devoted to preserv-             has had a
look at the conservation work                      now owns or helps to protect — if you       Chapter has helped protect more than        ing it, he is no simplistic tree-hugger.
we’ve done over the years,”                        count the Atlas Timberlands, a large
                                                   timber-producing forest conservation
                                                                                               30 miles of wild shoreline on Lake
                                                                                               Champlain, some 40 miles of Green
                                                                                                                                           He has consistently employed demon-
                                                                                                                                           strable facts and empirical research in
                                                                                                                                                                                         hand in.
said Emily Boedecker, market-
ing director for the organiza-                     project done jointly with the Vermont       Mountain skyline, important tracts          selecting the most important areas of
                                                   Land Trust — more than 183,000              of forest land on Mount Equinox,            the state to preserve and plan the best
tion. “The focus is to get people
                                                   acres. That’s a rate of more than 6,000     10-plus miles of the top of the Worces-    way to manage and care for them.
outside, to get them involved
                                                   acres a year, on average, added during      ter Range, and more. Klein can drive           He is, in short, a scientist with heart.
with nature.”                                      Klein’s tenure.                             almost anywhere in Vermont and see         Which is, basically, what you’d hope
   The book is available free                                         •••                      at least one conservation project the       all scientists would be.
at the Conservancy’s office                           From Black Mountain’s granite            Conservancy has had a hand in.                 He didn’t find any rattlesnakes that
in Montpelier and at all Con-                      dome in Dummerston to Victory                  He’s a firm believer that people are     early spring day on Bald Mountain. It
servancy events this year. To                      Bog in the Northeast Kingdom, and           a part of nature too, and so the Con-      was just too cold.
receive a copy by mail, send                       beyond, the Conservancy has helped          servancy welcomes visitors to most             But he has seen them before, and
a check for $5.95, to cover                        protect an array of natural areas           of its sites. It builds trails and boat     thanks to his work and the work of
postage and handling, to The                       that includes sand beaches, quaking         access areas so visitors can explore        others at The Nature Conservancy, he
Nature Conservancy, Vermont                        bogs, mountaintops, ponds, islands          the locations. (One of the few excep-       knows he — and those who follow him
                                                   in Lake Champlain, deep forests,            tions is the rattlesnake dens on Bald      — will see them again. A
Chapter, 27 State St., Suite 4,
Montpelier, VT 05602.

44 • vermont life                                                                                                                                                                                       Autumn 2010   •   45

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