Ron Krupp: Riparian buffers more important than ever

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Ron Krupp, a gardener and author whose most recent book is “Lifting the Yoke — Local Solutions to America’s Farm and Food Crisis.” He lives in South Burlington.

The Intervale Conservation Nursery in Burlington was founded in 2002 and is dedicated to growing native, locally sourced trees and shrubs for riparian restoration projects throughout Vermont.

A riparian buffer is a vegetated area — a “buffer” strip — near a stream or river that provides shade and protection from the impact of flooding and helps to stabilize an eroding bank. It’s made up of young native trees, grasses, flowers, and shrubs that line the stream banks. The trees provide perching places for birds, and cast their shade on the water keeping it cool for fish and frogs. They also provide seasonal blooms and autumn color to beautify the landscape while attracting butterflies.

After Hurricane Irene, 80,000 trees were planted along rivers and streams in northern Vermont.


Mike Inglis manages the Intervale Conservation Nursery, and he tells me that 11,000 cuttings of native shrub willows, red and silver maples, birch, elm and red osier dogwoods are already being grown there in a greenhouse. When these young cuttings send out roots and shoots, another 12,000 cuttings will be planted in the greenhouse for subsequent plantings through the year. The nursery grows about 40,000 trees a year.

It’s a two- to three-year cycle from the greenhouse to planting sites. The conservation nursery covers seven acres of floodplain near the Winooski River. The trees are raised without chemical fertilizer or pesticides. Cover crops are also planted on the nursery grounds. When the Intervale flooded during Hurricane Irene, trees in the fields of the nursery were underwater for five days and emerged just fine.

In 2014, 23,000 trees were planted on 90 acres of riverside conservation projects in Vermont. In the summer of 2014, 4,000 bare-root stems were loaded onto backpacks and carried to a planting site on the Little Otter Creek in Addison County. After Hurricane Irene, 80,000 trees were planted along rivers and streams in northern Vermont. The trees were mostly willows and dogwoods plus maples, oaks, and birches. Trees and shrubs were used along a river bank landscape after a dam removal project on the Wells River in Groton. This work was in conjunction with the Connecticut River Watershed Council.

Now that weather patterns are being affected by climate change, the New England region is seeing a definite shift toward heavier storms that deliver several inches of rain in a single day, making the flood and erosion “insurance” provided by a riparian buffer zone more important than ever.

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