Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) awarded the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts (VACD) a $149,761 grant with FY2014 Ecosystem Restoration Program (ERP) funds to develop a statewide Trees for Streams (TFS) program aimed at protecting riparian and shoreline areas to improve Vermont’s water quality and promote better management of near-water land resources. Building upon the experiences gained by the Lamoille County Conservation District, which initially developed the TFS program to serve landowners, the VACD-ERP TFS program aimed to share this expertise among all 14 of Vermont’s Natural Resources Conservation Districts by providing training, technical assistance and financial support to plant at least 20 acres of buffers throughout the state.
Ten Conservation Districts participated in the TFS program supported by the ERP grant, installing buffers at 25 sites during spring and fall 2014 and spring 2015. Districts partnered with homeowners, business owners, farmers, municipalities, and land trusts, planting a total of 7,359 stems covering 20.76 acres and extending 24,677 linear feet (about 4.6 miles of streambank). Numerous sites planted during this period had been damaged in 2011 during Tropical Storm Irene, and in some cases the buffer installation was part of a larger restoration effort. In the majority of projects planting was carried out by volunteers including students, conservation commission members, community volunteers and landowners, providing the opportunity for hands-on education regarding river dynamics and aquatic and riparian ecosystems. Conservation districts mobilized $30,986 in matching contributions to support the program including volunteer labor, use of equipment for site preparation, technical assistance and financial support.
The VACD TFS program developed a consistent, high-quality technical methodology to guide the program. Three trainings were provided to conservation district staff, as well as one-on-one technical assistance. In addition to more experienced conservation district managers, DEC staff and US Fish and Wildlife Service staff provided technical support and advice. The Vermont TFS Guidebook that had been started with a previous grant was completed, posted on the VACD website and shared with conservation districts and other organizations implementing similar programs in Vermont and beyond.