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.

If you read us, please support us.

Comment Policy requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harrassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Comments should be 1000 characters or fewer.

We moderate every comment. Please go to our FAQ for the full policy.


Recent Stories

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Ron Krupp: Riparian buffers more important than ever"
  • Vanessa Mills

    Thanks Mr. Krupp, for your attention to this issue. Truly sustainable practices allow for, respect-and-protect, and intuit that healthy ecosystems function synergystically and interdependently upon many components.
    Such protected and maintained systems remain functional in the natural and self-righting work these inherently perform! Such things such be upheld and respected. Tampering begets consequences and this is not rocket-science but simple logic!
    Tampering will cost us! Plain and simple.
    Easy cause-and-effect processes to understand.
    FURTHER “flood and erosion insurance” can be maintained by not letting wind developers alter mountaintops (and so then HEADWATERS!!!) and sensitive, interconnected upper elevation ecosystems. And lest we forget: headwaters begin in the mountains and flow on down, gathering momentum as they go, and doing this momentum-gathering on thru the woodlkands and down into rural lands AND municipalities!
    And finally into our wetlands. NOTHING is unaffected by flood impacts.
    Save on costs and utilize and preserve
    headwaters and ‘natural flood insurance.
    Developers and the politicians that facilitate the ease for these developers (flood) impacts should be held accountable
    before/during/after “the flood.”

  • Thank you, Mr. Krupp. Riparian buffers certainly have their place in ensuring community flood resiliency and overall watershed pollution reduction. Where the conversation has gone “off the rails” over the years is when we consider buffers as solution vice wetland reclamation.

    Agricultural fields today that once functioned as wetlands until the federal government incentivized their conversion to croplands will likely never cease to be a source of pollution (and increased storm flows) as long as they remain ditched or drained via tile systems. From an ecological standpoint, it makes little difference to the receiving waters if the pollution accumulates one drip at a time or through a singular flood event or if it comes from a shopping mall or an Ag field.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    James Ehlers
    Lake Champlain International

  • “Find out how things work” is a favorite saying of my husband; understanding how rivers work has never been more relevant in Vermont since TS Irene tore through and taught us the vital importance of riparian buffers. Buffers don’t merely look nice, they have a set of critical functions that allow our streams and rivers to perform their essential work of moving water and sediment to our oceans.

    Thank you for this piece, sir; I hope it echoes among the grassroots, and that we (in Vermont as well as around the country and the world) can understand the many ways that a healthy river (ie one with strong vegetated buffers) is vital to the economic health of the human community.

    Kelly Stettner
    Black River Action Team

  • kevin Lawrence

    Mr. Krupp is on target as always, noting the importance of our riparian zones.

    My concern is that the work on riparian zones to date misses the scale of the problem. Our efforts should be 50 times greater every year to truly address the historic agricultural degradation of riparian zones. The Wells River Project described is a good example, as many, many miles of the Wells River and CT River below are barren, sloughing edges without tree cover.
    I argue that the good work started is only symbolic until a full-scale repair of our riparian zones becomes a priority.