When Nate and Jessie Rogers bought their 133-acre farm on the Dog River in Berlin, they knew they were going to have river problems. Damage to the riverbanks delivered by 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene, coupled with the river’s twists and turns, has continually presented a challenge to farmers on this property. VLT suggested working on a management plan that would address how to reduce erosion and manage Japanese knotweed, an aggressive invasive species that took over as a result of Irene damage. The Rogers agreed. Their project is an example of the way VLT hopes to offer landowners more hands-on support to steward conserved lands.
“We want to put resources toward projects thoughtfully and not duplicate someone else’s effort,” says VLT’s Tyler Miller. That means looking at what services are provided already by other organizations, and how VLT might fill the gaps in helping landowners meet their land management goals.
Critical to making the Rogers Farm project and others happen has been VLT’s collaboration with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s new Environmental Career Opportunity (ECO) AmeriCorps program. This service corps program helps improve Vermont’s water quality.
During the last two years, ECO AmeriCorps members Julia Gulka and Clarice Cutler worked with owners of VLT-conserved land providing technical assistance. This included property evaluations, marking the boundaries of protected areas, organizing service projects, and more.
Two more AmeriCorps members have already signed on for next year to continue some of Julia and Clarice’s projects, and to research how VLT can best improve its technical support.
Julia, in collaboration with VLT, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, and Trout Unlimited, designed a plan to stabilize the Rogers’ riverbank and track four experimental knotweed plots managed with different combinations of grazing and mowing to help control this invasive plant. Julia organized a volunteer day to plant 1,100 trees along the river, then she and Nate worked on a system of rotational grazing and monthly mowing and monitoring of the knotweed. This year Clarice continued the work by measuring knotweed growth within the plots and analyzing the different methods of controlling it.
“You can look at those fields and see a massive spread of [native] plants, a nice tight soil structure,” Nate observes. He’ll likely continuing the grazing rotation as well as the mowing, which has been successful at stunting the spread of the knotweed. He worries about the power and intensity of flooding though, especially in years like this one. VLT will monitor this project for the next five years.
“It’s a unique property to go to and it’s good to have someone go out so frequently because it’s such a dynamic part of the river,” says Clarice.
The ECO AmeriCorps members have provided hands-on assistance with invasive species management on several other conserved properties. Last year, Julia spent some of her tenure developing invasive management plans for 11 conserved properties in Windham County, a conserved town-owned property in Waitsfield, and for the Bluffside Farm in Newport, which VLT currently owns.
“The care and time that she was able to put into developing those plans is more than our staff are usually able to devote,” Tyler says. “With AmeriCorps members’ service, this becomes another service we can provide with frequency and regularity.”
Clarice has also advanced VLT’s invasive species work. She and a fellow ECO AmeriCorps member spent three days walking the Brewster Uplands Conservation Trust property, 700 acres VLT owns in Cambridge. They identified where, and to what extent, the invasives multiflora rose, common buckthorn, Japanese barberry, Japanese knotweed, and shrub honeysuckle have taken over. Her management plan has detailed maps, feasibility costs, and management strategies. Clarice also organized a poison parsnip ‘pull party’ on a riparian buffer in Bristol.
“It’s been really effective so far,” says Clarice. “We pulled parsnip on half the buffer, and if you drive by you’ll see no yellow parsnip flowers where we were versus 100% yellow flowers in the other area.” The six-person work party used shovels to sever the root beneath the top of the soil (the plants’ sap is toxic).
Moving forward, Tyler is excited about the opportunities he sees. “The need for land management technical support is large,” he says. “We are excited about moving in new directions and applying consistency and rigor to the process.”
The next two AmeriCorps members to work with VLT this coming year will help the organization to take another step in this direction.