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Local
High reports of dead owls unusual, but not cause for concern (copy)

There’s been an unusually high number of dead or dying owls reported to authorities this year, and while it’s upsetting, it’s nothing to panic over, according to experts in the field.

Louis Porter, commissioner of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Tuesday in a phone interview that he told the Fish and Wildlife Board at its April 3 meeting that the department has been receiving an unusually high number of reports about owls being found dead.

Porter said two autumns ago there was a large crop of nuts in the woods, which led to an increase in small mammal populations. This led to an owl population increase, as owls prey on these creatures. This past winter, Porter said, was a hard one for owls, as the heavy, dense snow made it easier for the small mammals to hide.

He said this happens from time to time with different animal species. Last fall, he said, there was an unusually large number of squirrels reported killed on the roadways after an increase in available food led to the population rising.

Lauren Adams, development coordinator for Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS), agreed with Porter’s assessment, saying this isn’t the first time there’s been a spike in such incidents.

Adams was recently named development coordinator at VINS, but prior to that served as lead animal keeper. VINS runs a wild bird rehabilitation center.

She said by far the most common species of owl in Vermont, and hence the kind VINS normally sees, is the barred owl.

In 2018, VINS took in 45 barred owls. Between Jan. 1 and the end of March of this year, it’s already taken in approximately 50. The most VINS has seen for owl intakes was 71 in 2016, and Adams expects that number will be matched or beat by the end of 2019.

She said VINS manages to rehabilitate about half of the owls it takes in, releasing them back into the wild near where they were found. The success rate sounds low, she said, but it’s on par with other animal rehabilitation centers.

In a normal year, most of the owls coming to VINS are found injured on roadsides, likely hurt by collisions with vehicles, said Adams. This year, many were found emaciated and sick from starvation in odd places such as backyards, parking lots and driveways. Most of the reports came between February and March. She said the owls were seeking open areas to hunt in.

If people come across a sick or injured owl, or other bird, they should first call VINS at 802-359-5000 during normal business hours, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. As of Saturday, the hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adams said it’s open every day. Those who call should use the extension 212, but if it’s after hours, use 510, which will lead to a hotline with instructions.

Adams said it’s not advisable for people to approach an owl if they don’t know what they’re doing. Some birds, she said, don’t survive being transported to VINS, located at 149 Natures Way in Quechee.

During spring, people sometimes confuse a fledgling bird with a sick or injured one, said Adams, and will take it to VINS when it should have been left alone in the wild. Calling first, she said, can avoid unnecessary bird transports.

Steve Parren, of the Fish and Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Diversity Program, said in an email Tuesday that it’s often the younger owls that die in circumstances such as these.

“The first year is the hardest because the birds are not experienced and food is harder to find,” he said.

“This winter we have snow cover since November and the winter has lasted a long time. We don’t have an estimate of the owl population or how many died, but we have received more calls than usual about dead barred owls, owls at bird feeders — the small mammals that come to the seed are the main draw — lethargic birds, and owls out during the day, including on power lines along roads,” he said.

Adams said fluctuation within wildlife populations is common, but often unseen.

“It’s tough when you see it,” she said.

keith.whitcomb @rutlandherald.com


jebcas / Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo  

Spirits moves him

A worker rappels down the roof of the new Caledonia Spirits facility being built off Barre Street in Montpelier on Wednesday.


AP
Barr alleges Trump campaign spying

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr declared Wednesday he thinks “spying did occur” on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, suggesting the origins of the Russia investigation may have been mishandled and aligning himself with the president at a time when Barr’s independence is under scrutiny.

Barr, appearing before a Senate panel, did not say what “spying” had taken place but seemed likely to be alluding to a surveillance warrant the FBI obtained on a Trump associate. He later said he wasn’t sure there had been improper surveillance but wanted to make sure proper procedures were followed. Still, his remarks give a boost to Trump and his supporters who insist his 2016 campaign was unfairly targeted by the FBI.

Barr was testifying for a second day at a congressional budget hearing that was dominated by questions about special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation. His comments risked inflaming Democratic concerns that Barr’s views are overly in sync with Trump’s and that he’s determined to protect the president as he readies the release of a version of Mueller’s report.

Barr said he expects to release a redacted copy of the report next week. Democrats have expressed concern that his version will conceal wrongdoing by the president and are frustrated by the four-page summary letter he released last month that they say paints Mueller’s findings in an overly favorable way for the president.

Democrats immediately seized on Barr’s testimony.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., tweeted that Barr’s comments “directly contradict” what the Justice Department previously had said, and he said he had requested a briefing from the department. House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Barr’s comments were sure to please Trump, “but it also strikes another destructive blow to our democratic institutions.”

Republicans, meanwhile, praised Barr for looking into the matter. North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a confidant to Trump who has raised concerns about Justice Department conduct for the past two years, tweeted that Barr’s willingness to investigate it is “massive.”

Barr, who was nominated to his post by Trump four months ago, was asked about spying by Republican Sen. Jerry Moran. He said that though he did not have specific evidence of wrongdoing, “I do have questions about it.”

“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said.

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen asked him directly if he believed spying on the campaign occurred, and he said, “Yes I think spying did occur. The question is whether it was adequately predicated” — meaning whether it was legally justified.

Barr said he was reviewing his department’s actions in investigating Trump. A separate investigation is being conducted by the Justice Department inspector general into the early days of the FBI’s Russia probe, which Barr said he expects to conclude sometime around May or June.

“I feel that I have an obligation to ensure government power was not abused,” Barr said.

Asked again about spying at the end of the hearing, Barr tempered his tone. “I am not saying improper surveillance occurred. I am saying I am concerned about it, and I am looking into it,” he said.

Barr’s reference to “spying” may refer to a secret surveillance warrant that the FBI obtained in the fall of 2016 to monitor the communications of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing and has denied being a Russian spy.

That warrant included a reference to research that was conducted by an ex-British spy who was funded by Democrats to look into Trump’s ties to Russia.

Critics of the Russia investigation say the warrant on Page was unjustified and have also seized on anti-Trump text messages sent and received by one of the lead agents involved in investigating whether the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia.

At the White House on Wednesday, Trump repeated his claim that the investigation was illegal.

“It was started illegally. Everything about it was crooked. Every single thing about it. There were dirty cops,” he said.

He falsely claimed that the Mueller report had found “no obstruction.” While the four-page letter released by Barr said the special counsel did not find a criminal conspiracy between Russia and Trump associates around the time of the 2016 election, it also said Mueller had presented evidence on both sides of the obstruction question and ultimately did not reach a conclusion on it.

Barr said he did not believe the evidence in the report was sufficient to prove the president had obstructed justice. Democrats said they were concerned that Barr’s letter portrayed the investigation’s findings in an overly favorable way for Trump.

Barr’s statement Wednesday that he expected to release a redacted version of Mueller’s nearly 400-page report next week marked a slight change from the estimate he gave Tuesday, when he said the release would be within a week.

Though he said the document will be redacted to withhold negative information about peripheral figures in the investigation, he said that would not apply to Trump, who is an officeholder and central to the probe.


Local
American Legion 100th anniversary
Legion national commander visits Vermont during 100 anniversary

MONTPELIER — The national commander of the American Legion visited the Capital City on Wednesday to mark the 100th anniversary of the world’s largest veterans’ association.

Brett P. Reistad, of Virginia, was elected the top official of the Legion in August and has already visited 35 states and several U.S. protectorates worldwide.

His visit to Montpelier included a stop at the Vermont American Legion Headquarters Post 100 on State Street, a visit and photo-op with Gov. Phil Scott at the State House and lunch at the American Legion Post 3 on Main Street.

The American Legion is a U.S. war veterans’ organization founded on March 15, 1919, at the American Club near Place de Concorde in Paris, France, by members of the American Expeditionary Forces to help care for soldiers returning from World War I. The Legion was chartered on Sept. 16, 1919, by the U.S. Congress.

As the years have marched on, so have many of the Legion’s members, down from a peak of 3.3 million members after the end of World war II to 2.3 million in 2013. Post 3’s membership has dropped from a peak of 500 members to about 240 members today. Statewide, there are about 10,000 members.

Reistad said he was happy to return to Vermont — and meet with the governor — after a visit last year during the nomination process to be the Legion national commander.

Reistad said he received assurances from Scott about support for veterans in the state, including a Senate bill. S.111 seeks to establish a registry of veterans who suffered the toxic effects of so-called burn pits when disposing a variety of hazardous wastes that have caused medical problems. Reistad said it was a similar action like the Legion’s efforts to advocate at the national level for the victims of the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

“He had a couple of questions about the burn pits and talked about the legislation that they just put through your general assembly and asked if it was something that we’re focused on the national level, and we certainly are,” Reistad said.

Reistad was met at Burlington International Airport by Vermont Legion state commander David Woodward and Melvin Knight of the Legion Post 10 in Barre, who acts as the Legion’s public information officer in Vermont. Post 3 Commander Dick Harlow was unable to join the day’s activities due to illness.

“(Reistad’s) obviously a very dedicated Legionnaire, and this is a very important PR opportunity for us, to let people know what the American Legion does for our veterans and our communities,” Woodward said. “We discussed veterans’ affairs and how we feel about national bills being proposed.”

“These visits are important for both sides,” Knight added. “It’s important for the national commander to get a feel for the situation with the Legion out in the field — what’s they’re concerned about, whether it’s relationships with the VA or helping youth — and it’s an uplifting experience for a national commander to come to a post, so it’s a two-way thing.”

One Legion member attending the lunch at Post 3 in Montpelier was Adjunct Dell Hill from Post 33 in Morrisville.

“It’s an honor for each state that gets an official visit from the national commander,” Hill said. “That’s a lot of travel for one person in a year.

“He’s on the road quite a bit, but they do get to come out and rub shoulders with the rank-and-file,” he added. “You get to shake their hand and talk to them personally. It’s like a real shot of adrenaline to have the national commander come in and pump you up.”

In addition to focusing on the core four pillars of Legion activity — Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation; National Security; Americanism; and Children and Youth — Reistad said he is also focusing on new initiatives.

As part of the 100th anniversary, Reistad launched the Team 100 campaign, which gathers the thoughts of Legion members to use in promotional materials to increase membership. The campaign also provides incentives for Legion posts and departments worldwide to receive financial rewards for returning members to their rosters, ramping up renewal rates and hitting their targets for 2019.

Because of his law enforcement background, Reistad will also meet with Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette, who was named Law Enforcement Officer of the Year by the Legion in 2012 for his ties to the community, establishing foot patrols in high-risk residential areas, obtaining grants to fund the purchase of high-tech law enforcement tools and supporting Boy Scouts of America.

As 2019 national commander, Reistad’s theme is “Celebrating Our Legacy,” with special emphasis on the Legion’s centennial.

Reistad’s visit to Vermont on Wednesday included a visit to Hardwick Post 7 for a social evening, dinner and an overnight stay.

On Thursday, he will travel to Bennington to meet Doucette, do a radio interview and visit Chester Post 67 and Brattleboro Post 5 before heading to Massachusetts.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com


Local
Barre Town
Barre Town residents to vote on balanced budgets

BARRE TOWN — Residents will vote on a balanced budget at next month’s annual meeting.

At its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Select Board approved the warning for the town’s annual May meeting. This year’s voting will take place May 14 at Barre Town Middle & Elementary School. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The proposed budget is $6,968,751, which is an increase of $224,005, or 3.32 percent, more than the current budget.

The general fund is $3,867,941, which is an increase of $128,385, or 3.43 percent, more than the current budget.

For notable changes, Town Manager Carl Rogers said Wednesday the biggest increase is $102,790 for the town’s ambulance fund. Rogers said this increase was needed to offset the loss in revenue from ambulance calls paid by Medicare and Medicaid. He said the amount those programs will pay increases slightly while the payroll for ambulance service is going up by much more than that.

The second largest increase in the general fund is $29,575 in health insurance premiums for town employees. Next is $15,970 for contracted services for recreation. Rogers said that includes $7,000 for improving the softball field fence, $3,500 to remove invasive plants from the Town Forest and $4,200 to seal the skate park surface.

The proposed general fund also includes some decreases, the largest of which is in the fire department’s budget. He said the current budget includes $56,000 for new turnout gear which isn’t needed in the proposed budget.

The highway fund is $3,100,810, which is an increase of $95,620, or 3.18 percent, more than the current budget.

For notable increases, Rogers said winter maintenance is going up $96,235, but that’s offset a bit by a reduction in costs for summer maintenance. The town will also spend $22,400 more for salt next winter, which is included in the $96,235.

The town is also planning on paving some roads this summer, and this line item increases $13,710. Rogers said the roads, which include Church Hill Road and Camp Street, need some drainage work before paving can take place.

For decreases, summer maintenance wages went down $26,650, and equipment decreased $21,850. Rogers said health insurance for the road crew went down $33,450. He said the highway budget is also going down $21,860 because that money was included in the current budget as the town’s match for a grant for the East Barre sidewalk project that was completed last year.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com


Rail

“It remains to be seen whether the teetering tower succumbs to the principles, not of physics, but of honesty, integrity and truth. Trump’s pick for attorney general may be the very person who runs out this president’s luck.”

Editorial, A4

In the news

Sen. Bernie Sanders, as promised, rolls out his Medicare for All plan as part of his bid for the presidency. A2

A central Vermont man faces a new domestic assault charge following an incident earlier this month. A3

An insurance program to help hard-pressed dairy farmers is expected to be ready for enrollment in June, the U.S. Farm Service Agency says, but farmers say it won’t tackle the underlying challenges they face. A3

Lots to talk about in Talk of the Town. A6

As the legislative session enters the home stretch, lawmakers still have not figured out how to pay for what most insist is a top priority: cleaning up Lake Champlain and other waterways. A7


BTA Hotspot

Saturday

Pruning, Grafting and Planting

With Nicko Rubin; an opportunity for the novice home orchardist to gain exposure to basic topics, as well as for the more experienced orchardist to pick Nicko’s brain and exchange knowledge. 10 a.m. Randolph Community Orchard. http://BALEVT.org