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Overgrowth? Undergrowth? A Vermont Paper of Record Decides to Ask

Dec 18, 2012

Thanks to George Plumb for pointing out that the Burlington Free Press has tackled the population issue, as of December 16th, 2012, with a set of 7 articles. Below is the link to the main article, from which you can access the remaining six — including an interview with PMC President, Bill Ryerson.

Overgrowth? Undergrowth?
Chittenden County mulls an influx of humans
By Joel Banner, Burlington Free Press


Brace yourselves for less elbow room. Or, conversely, prepare to celebrate yet another population growth spurt in Chittenden County.

How should we welcome the prediction of 50,000 more humans in our midst during the next 25 years?

Carefully and with optimism, advises the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, which recently published projections of population increase in its wide-ranging study of regional growth.

Economically and culturally, the county stands to benefit from a jolt of fresh blood, according to the commission’s Environment, Community, Opportunity and Sustainability (ECOS) project.

Other voices sound a more cautious note. Population experts and wildlife scientists predict that another significant uptick in humanity will almost certainly compromise the county’s much-vaunted “quality of life” — for people and other, less vocal species.

Hard evidence supports both viewpoints. And a single, exasperating piece of the puzzle remains missing: the “carrying capacity” for humans on this part of the Earth.

In the absence of an elegant formula, our guests in this issue wrestle with questions: How might we determine an optimal population? How many is too many? What’s “sustainable?”

Scientists seem to be able to compute the figure for deer and moose herds. We likewise quantify our tolerance for invasive “nuisance” species such as Dutch elm disease and Asian longhorn beetles.

Common knowledge: Every plant, animal, fungus and virus seeks growth. Less appealing, but also true: That expansive quest typically results in decline and fall.

Cycles of emergence, dominance and collapse (interspersed with periods of relative balance and stability) are embedded in the fossil record.

Census records track a narrower but telling trajectory of human settlement in Chittenden County. From 1960 to 2000, our population about doubled, to 146,500.

The county now is home to about 156,500 residents — a quarter of the state’s total of about 626,000. Its growth rate will continue to outstrip that of Vermont, according to ECOS projections.

To read the full article, please click here: