Essex County Natural Resources Conservation District
481 Summer Street; Suite 202 St. Johnsbury, Vermont 05819
Who We are and What We Do- The Essex County NRCD offers a resource to landowners, farmers, schools and businesses through their efforts with water quality issues, agriculture, education and other community projects. Extensive partnerships with local, state and federal agencies enable Districts to coordinate existing resources on a local level to ensure environmental quality and support the integrity of land use practices. Districts offer a unique and powerful vehicle for citizens to become involved with local conservation work and establish programs that protect their environment.
Available Services include– agricultural technical services, riparian & lakeshore buffer plantings, grant writing for municipalities, assistance with invasive species, landscaping for wildlife, soil testing and educational workshops and trainings.
Upper Connecticut River Watershed CISMA- The Upper Connecticut River Watershed Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA) was formed in 2010 by a core group of natural resource professionals interested in collaborating on the early detection and management of invasive species in the uppermost sub-watersheds of the Connecticut River. With an immense area in excess of 900,000 acres, the Upper Connecticut River Watershed CISMA includes nine major tributaries of the Connecticut River, representing a significant and crucial portion of the headwaters. Early detection and responsiveness is critical to this region as it remains relatively pristine and free of invasive species to this date. The CISMA spans portions of both northern Vermont and New Hampshire and offers opportunities for international cooperation, as it includes part of southern Quebec.
It is fortunate that relatively few invasive species are currently present, although certain species, such as Japanese knotweed, are pervasive. The concern for the future centers on the numerous transmission vectors (highways, railroad, the river itself) that may carry new pests into the region. With such a light population in comparison to areas further downstream, user groups and service organizations can play a key role in educating their membership, monitoring key gateway sites, and carrying out control projects. The CISMA is committed to the early detection and treatment of new infestations and the systematic management of existing invasive populations. These actions are consistent with the strategies detailed in the state Wildlife action plans. As an example, Vermont’s strategy for improving salmon habitat calls for healthy riparian zones and reduced sedimentation in streams; both of these objectives would be achieved via the aggressive control of Japanese knotweed and the rehabilitation of river banks to revitalize native vegetation.
The CISMA is comprised of roughly two dozen individuals representing conservation and recreation-oriented agencies, organizations, businesses, and interest groups. Meetings in 2011 concentrated on building the interest levels in both Vermont and New Hampshire and setting goals for the field season. The work in 2011 included initial orientations with the new iMapInvasives database, several rapid response treatment actions, outreach to schools, and groundwork for two educational demonstration projects. A strategic plan was also drafted and work is still in progress, but the plan requires some fine-tuning and ground-proofing, opportunities for public input, and the development of sub-watershed action plans in 2012.
While the CISMA membership unites a diversity of backgrounds and skills, coordination and leadership over such a broad area is beyond the capabilities of a single individual. Thus the emphasis will be on sub-watershed actions, with the CISMA unifying the work, offering resource efficiencies, establishing safety guidelines, and assisting with public engagement. This grant will enable the organization to pull together the expertise needed to finalize the strategic plan. Outreach to the sub-watersheds will then build that plan into appropriately scaled action plans. Finally, with critical treatment areas identified, demonstration projects will take shape for implementation by trained and supportive citizens in the service organizations, user groups, and local communities.
Invasives Species and Education- Canaan Elementary summer school students had the opportunity to make an enormous difference in this knotweed stand near the water treatment plant in their town. Before and After pictures speak for themselves! In addition to learning about WHAT an invasives species is, students learned WHY the work they were doing was so important and how the eradication of just this one patch would make a difference to the river banks and forests downstream.
Riparian Buffering- Our work in the silver maple/ostrich fern floodplain forests of the Northern Connecticut River continued into 2011, with a crew from the NorthWoods Stewardship Center restoring parcels with buffer plantings that would result in the greatest improvements to in stream water quality. The buffers assist in linking existing floodplain forests to maximize connectivity, maintain and expand wildlife habitat and corridors, and provide large blocks of land for floodplain habitat and floodplain forest dependent communities and species.
Three properties were ‘buffered’ this year, with a total of 2,069 trees and shrubs being planted. Species such as red osier dogwood and black willow are great for holding river banks in place and shrubs of highbush cranberry provide a nutritional snack for birds of many species. The District has its eye on a very large tract of land along the River for next year’s planting and is working with landowners now to make that happen.
Limited funds will be available for riparian buffers along riverbank properties in 2012. . If you are interested in assistance and have a concern due to river movements and erosion, give the District a call and see if we can help!
To learn more about the State’s silver maple-ostrich fern natural communities, a great resource to checkout is: Wetland, Woodland, Wildland; A Guide to the Natural Communities of Vermont by Elizabeth H. Thompson and Eric Sorenson.
Northeast Kingdom Lakeshore Buffering Program- The NEKLB continued in 2011 along three lakeshores on five properties. Species such as the high bush blueberry were planted to not only provide a food source for wildlife (and people!) but to assist in controlling water temperatures and slow run-off into the lakes from driveways and lawns.
Northeast Kingdom Conservation Nursery- With funding from the Plum Creek Foundation and donations of energy and enthusiasm from many individuals, the Essex County NRCD has begun work on a Northeast Kingdom Conservation Nursery, with a mission to produce high quality container-grown seedlings from local seed stock for restoration and buffer plantings in northern Vermont and New Hampshire. Silver maple and shrub willows are in the ground and being tended to. The plantings will serve many goals including, stabilizing streambanks (reducing erosion), restoring native plant communities (floodplain forests and wetlands), re-establishing connectivity of habitat along riparian corridors, improving water quality, and preventing the spread of non-native plant material in the landscape. There are two conservation nurseries in the state at present, but none of these can meet the demands each year of all the organizations and individuals seeking to purchase native tree and shrub stock.
“Riparian buffers are the single most effective protection for our water resources in Vermont and New Hampshire. These strips of grass, shrubs, and/or trees along the banks of rivers and streams filter polluted runoff and provide a transition zone between water and human land use. Buffers are also complex ecosystems that provide habitat and improve the stream communities they shelter. Natural riparian buffers have been lost in many places over the years. Restoring them will be an important step forward for water quality, riverbank stability, wildlife, and aestheticism the Connecticut River Valley”. (CRJC, 2005).
“The demand for riparian trees and shrubs in the State of Vermont has grown exponentially in recent years as conservation and restoration projects have expanded. Riparian conservation efforts in Vermont annually demand 100,000 to 150,000 native trees and shrubs,” and this does not include individual landowners wishing to plant species native to their region. Each year, Conservation Districts and many other water quality minded organizations must purchase and import 1,000’s of trees and shrubs from as far away as Minnesota and Montana. The likelihood of some of these species surviving is bleak, given the varying hardiness requirements for plant species. A local nursery could provide a hardy stock of native trees and shrubs to the many northern Vermont and New Hampshire organizations and individuals desiring them, assisting in the process of improving water quality throughout the State, conserving river and steam banks from erosion and providing wildlife and fish forage and habitat with their fruits and shade.
In addtion, the ECNRCD operates a willow nursery in Brighton and is a partner in the Brunswick, Vermont willow nursery. These willows- harvested in the spring as 'stakes' and allowed to regenerate over the year- are used on many of the District's riparian buffer projects.
Stream Geomorphic Assessment- For several years the District has worked collaboratively with the Agency of Natural Resources; River Management Program to complete geomorphic and habitat assessments on streams and rivers, identifying stream dynamics in relation to bank erosion, flooding and water quality problems.
These assessments have been conducted on Essex County rivers including Keyer and Bolter Brooks and Willard Stream in Canaan, the Moose River in Concord and the main stem of the Nulhegan River. Our current programs are working to utilize this information to support landowners and municipalities to control erosion, establish forested buffers and enhance riverine habitat. Funding has been sought to continue surveying on Leach Stream in Canaan and the East Branch of the Nulhegan in Brunswick in 2012.
Floodplain Forest Restoration- Floodplain forests are important components of river ecosystems, and provide valuable societal and ecological benefits, including reducing flood damage, improving water quality, and providing important fish and wildlife habitat. However, many of the floodplain forests in northern New England hae been lost or degraded by human actiivities, including altered hydrology, land use conversion, and exotic species invasions. In 2009, the Essex County NRCD began a multi-year effort to conserve these forests; protecting the remaining floodplain forests and restoring them in areas where they have been lost or degraded, along the Northern Connecticut River in Essex County.
To document the structure and composition of existing floodplain forests, we conducted botanical inventories in 17 extant floodplain forests in Canaan and Maidstone, Vermont during July-August 2009. These inventories allowed us to identify the community types and plant species represented in existing floodplain forests, to characterize their distributions across floodplain elevational gradients, and to identify the best strategies for protecting and restoring the structure and function of floodplain forests. Based on the data collected during the botanical inventories and additional on-site surveys, a plan was developed for restoring riparian buffers and reconnecting existing floodplain forests on a property in the Maidstone Bends area of the River. This restoration plan identifies a number of factors that need to be considered in restoring these forests and outlines specific plans for planting the woody vegetation, reducing erosion, increasing sediment deposition, and controlling invasive plants. During the course of this project, several additional opportunities to restore riparian buffers became evident, and with funding from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation’s Mitigation and Enhancement Fund, the District will continue this project into 2011 and beyond.
Agriculture and Technical Services- The ECNRCD works with Vermont Association of Conservation District staff on agricultural topics and issues effecting the farms of Essex.
Sarah Damsell is the county Agricultural Resource Specialist/CREP Planner. Sarah provides technical assistance to farmers for implementation of Accepted Agricultural Practices and works to promote water quality improvements by utilizing the Agricultural Environmental Management program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program through on farm assessments, coordination of state and federal natural resource assistance programs, and development and dissemination of educational materials.
Mark Marsh is the Conservation Planner for Essex County. Mark provides technical assistance to farmers to improve water quality and to better manage nutrients.
Sarah can be reached at 802-334-8325 x20 and Mark at 802-524-6505 x126.