Hub Vogelmann Leaves Impressive Environmental Legacy

Oct 14, 2013

University of Vermont professor Hubert ‘Hub’ Vogelmann died Friday.  Vogelmann was 84.

He is best known for the groundbreaking research that established the harmful effects of acid rain on high elevation forests.  

But Vogelmann’s greatest contribution may have been his effort to help protect Vermont’s most fragile areas, and over the years he was responsible for recruiting many to the cause of conservation in Vermont.

‘Hands-on’ is a term often used to describe Vogelmann.  Whether showing a visitor how to split wood at his Jericho home, taking his students out of the classroom and into the field, or advocating for environmental causes.

UVM Professor of Environmental Studies and Natural Resources Thomas Hudspeth met Vogelmann when Hudspeth came to the university in 1972. 

Hudspeth says Vogelmann, who began teaching at UVM in the 1950s, had a warmth and story-telling ability that made him an engaging teacher, but he also had a tough side and he didn’t shrink from involvement in environmental advocacy.

“He was both a highly respected research scientist and advocate, which is somewhat unusual.  I can think of lots of people who didn’t have the backbone to do that advocacy work after they had come up with the findings that they did,” says Hudspeth.

In 1982 Vogelmann distilled the acid rain research he and his students had done and wrote an article for Natural History magazine called “Catastrophe on Camel's Hump.”

The piece drew worldwide attention and,Vogelmann said, changed his life. The research set the stage for future efforts to curb pollution caused by fossil fuel burning power plants, but Vogelmann’s environmental interests were much more far-reaching. 

Over many years he was part of the connective tissue that linked many conservation and land stewardship efforts.

He helped the Green Mountain Club create a program to protect mountain summits, helped win the protections for higher elevation land that are enshrined in Act 250, and oversaw the growth of the Nature Conservancy in Vermont.

Robert Klein, the conservancy’s long time Vermont director remembers driving to Boston with Vogelmann to pitch the regional organization on the idea of opening a Vermont office.

“Hub had a lot of credibility.  He was also a charming, persuasive guy,” Klein says.

Klein says Vogelmann was instrumental in raising money and marshaling UVM resources to help the fledgling organization acquire land, including the protection of Shelburne Pond, which  Vogelmann used as an outdoor laboratory for his students.

“It was functional for him, but he also really believed in leaving places alone.  He loved the outdoors.  He was a great fisherman,” says Klein.

VPR news analyst Hamilton Davis was a newspaper reporter when he was recruited to teach writing and public policy in the graduate level Field Naturalists Program Vogelmann created at UVM.  Davis says Vogelmann’s vision was two-part:  First, to teach people to see the natural world in an integrated way to better understand what was happening in the environment.

“In other words,” Davis says, “Rather than a reductionist sense in which you knew everything about rocks and nothing about anything else, you had to be an old fashioned naturalist.”

Davis says the second part of Vogelmann’s vision was teaching students to communicate their findings to lay people and policymakers.

“He said he wanted to train people with moxie; an old-fashioned word that means nerve, courage, a willingness to stand up in tough times,” Davis says.

In the early 1980s it took moxie to raise questions that made coal producers and power plant operators unhappy.   In a 2004 VPR interview Vogelmann said he was convinced that if the science was there, it was his responsibility to raise the questions.

“There was a lot of criticism at that time, people hammered on my door and said, ‘what are you trying to do, are you trying to alarm people?’ I said, ‘no we’re just sharing information. You can draw your own conclusions, but we’re telling you what we’re finding’,” Vogelmann explained.

A memorial service for Hub Vogelmann will be held on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Ira Allen Chapel at UVM, with a reception following in the Billings Center.