Greetings to all Vermonters concerned with Aquatic Invasive Species issues. Here at the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VTDEC) Lakes and Ponds Management Program, we received many calls from passionate individuals on how our Aquatic Invasive Species Program will run this season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and related physical distance orders and the Vermont State “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order in effect at the time of writing.
We are working hard to get things in place and are committed to continuing our work on AIS spread prevention and management statewide. There are no set plans yet regarding how the program will run, or if we will be able to proceed as planned due to requirements stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Different questions and challenges stemming from pandemic response requirements emerge almost daily, and these challenges and questions run the gamut from how trainings will take place, if Aquatic Nuisance Grant in Aid funds might be available and when, will boat accesses be open, and ultimately will boaters come? The one begrudging constant is that the invasive species are still an issue and are not going away.
While we are still awaiting concrete guidance from ANR leadership on how to proceed with grants and contracts for the 2020 field season in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, VTDEC is reviewing options for how to proceed so that we are ready when the current “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order is lifted. As part of our planning, our top priority is how to provide funds for the Aquatic Nuisance Grant in Aid (ANC GIA) which many people rely on for seed money to implement in-lake spread prevention programs and practices. While we hope to provide some amount of funding soon, there may be a prioritization for how these funds are allocated based on relevant Vermont State Statutes (available here https://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/section/10/050/01458) and other factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay tuned for further guidance from VTDEC on this point.
Another option to consider is how the Public Access Greeter Trainings and Vermont Invasive Patrol trainings are presented, whether in person or remotely via webinars or videos. VTDEC can provide presentations and manuals on-line simply, but we hope to take it step further and if needed, develop webinars and/or videos so that the presentations may be more instructive and potentially interactive. The on-line presence may work for the majority, but we realize this may not work for some of the more rural partners where internet access is limited or unavailable. We will consider and utilize the best available communication tools to be sure everyone is involved and well-trained.
A final concern to address is to whether the boat accesses will be open. As the majority boat accesses are owned and maintained by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, whether they will be open to the public is under the direction of the Governor. We hope that the fish access areas, state parks, and wildlife areas will remain open for all of us to safely recreate. If the access areas are open, we trust that everyone will stay six feet away from others, and Clean, Dry, and Drain boats and boating equipment. Please check the VTDEC Aquatic Invasive Species Program website (available here https://dec.vermont.gov/watershed/lakes-ponds/aquatic-invasives) for plans as they arise, or e-mail me with questions. Be well and stay safe!