University of Vermont

Center for Research on Vermont

Population growth, town energy committees, sheep farming and sustainability and aging buildings

Vermont Research News - 3 – November 15, 2015


Two candidates for Governor recently called on Vermont to add 100,000 people to meet goals for a sustainable economic future. Why do people come to Vermont? Why do they stay? Why do they leave? These questions have challenged Vermont at various times during the last 200 years. In the Vermont Roots Migration project, a team of researchers (Cheryl Morse, Jill Mudgett, Wendy Geller, Seth Marineau & Sohier Perry) used stories and data from 3,700 individual perspectives on Vermont. Economic issues are only one factor they found, with “leavers” also seeking cultural diversity and urban experiences. See also these video interviews with historian Jill Mudgett and economist Art Woolf on this issue. 

Not everyone believes adding people is critical to Vermont’s future. Vermonters for a Sustainable Population director George Plumb recently published a technical report calling for Vermont to shed 125,000 people to meet the state’s “carrying capacity.” The report suggests optimum population numbers depending on goals for water quality, democracy, food self-sufficiency, happiness and spirituality among others.

UVM classics professor Mark Usher is tracing the ideas of ecological and socio-economic sustainability back to its  “unacknowledged roots” in Greek and Roman thought and philosophy in ancient literature. Usher’s interest and work in sustainability also draws from his own experiences as a sheep farmer in Shoreham. See this recent talk by Usher titled  “Sustainability, Complex Systems, and the Greeks."


A new method to measure the thermal efficiency of aging buildings is the subject of research by two Green Mountain College faculty. John Van Hoesen and Steve Letendre explore the use of a GIS-based approach to “evaluate building-stock age in rural communities with limited access to historical parcel data.” The researchers used Poultney as their test case, digitizing building footprints for each year from historical Sanborn insurance maps, producing a map depicting the spatiotemporal evolution of building construction between 1885–1940. A paper documenting their research is published in the Journal of Environment and Planning B.

UVM Geology Professor Stephen Wright presented new information on the flow of ice sheets across Vermont in an article in Quaternary Science Reviews (October, 2015) titled “Late Wisconsinan ice sheet flow across northern and central Vermont, USA.” Wright examined more than 2000 glacial striation azimuths across northern and central Vermont in the research. “Valley-parallel striations across the area indicate strong topographic control on ice flow as the ice sheet thinned,” Wright writes in the article.

Energy & the Environment

The role of hydropower from Canada – Power from the North -- in de-carbonizing electric systems and providing renewable power to regional energy markets is receiving increased attention. Three Saint Micheal’s College faculty, Laura Stroup, Richard Kujawa and Jeff Ayres explore the transition to a new “regionalism” around  the “green visioning of a sustainable energy future,” focusing on the Vermont-Quebec border area.  The article, “Envisioning a Green Energy Future in Canada and the United States” in the American Review of Canadian Studies was published in November. See a recent video interview with Richard Kujawa here on his Vermont Land Trust and conservation easement research. 

Vermont’s ground-up energy planning is the subject of recent research by Tarah Rowse, a faculty member at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Rowse surveyed 120 Vermont town energy committees to examine the structures and activities of the local energy “actors.” Rowse also compared the energy chapters in 40 town plans with the state’s 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan – finding that town plans carried through strategies from the state plan about half of the time, suggesting a lag or disconnect between state and town plans on energy issues.

Books by Center Members

Tracing the evolution of the state’s landscape exploring the geological, ecological and cultural influences that shaped Vermont is the subject tackled by Middlebury political science professor Christopher McGrory Klyza and colleague Stephen Trombulak in “The Story of Vermont: A Natural and Cultural History (University Press of New England, 2015) The 2nd edition of this book examines the state’s landscape from the pre-human era to the present day – adding new material that addresses Tropical Storm Irene, climate change and the local food movement.

The Vermont State House is the subject of a book by Nancy Price Graff and state curator David Schutz; Intimate Grandeur: Vermont's State House, Friends of the Vermont State House, The book was reviewed here in Seven Days.

Student Research

Vermont’s plan for 90 percent renewables in all sectors by 2050 is very much in the public conversation. UVM Ph.D student Chris Clement modeled the physical impact on Vermont of locating all of that renewable energy generation in state – a greater impact than current plans which envision importing some of the renewable energy. Clement found that Vermont has the land space and geography but facility location would take careful planning.

The Vermont Research News is a bi-monthly curated collection of Vermont research -- focused on research in the Vermont "laboratory" -- research that provides original knowledge to the world and research that examines and adds to understanding of the state's social, economic, cultural and physical environment.

Send your news items to
Or contact Center Director Richard Watts at 802-656-9775

To subscribe or unsubscribe