BRATTLEBORO -- The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation recently approved a grant for a program called Trees For Streams, which aims to improve land within Windham County along streams affected by Tropical Storm Irene.
"We're going to be planting trees to re-establish vegetation along areas that were really hard hit," said Dana Ruppert, project director of Windham County Natural Resources Conservation District. "We'll be working with farmers and landowners, trying to figure out areas or projects are that the largest resource concerned. Then we'll step in and help re-vegetate that area."
Ruppert performs site evaluations and plans where crews will set up a buffer along the water. She also is responsible for getting the plants, organizing the actual planting and lining up volunteers.
According to a press release, the goal of the Trees For Streams program is "to improve water quality and restore aquatic habitat by preventing erosion and providing shade along damaged water bodies."
Eighty percent of the process for establishing a vegetated buffer will be covered by the grant. The landowner or farm owner will pick up the other 20 percent, which can include in-kind work as well as the purchase of soil.
The other part of the landowner agreement, which Ruppert has the property owners sign, states that the landowner has to agree to maintain the site for 10 years.
There is no formal application. Other agencies and organizations like the Agency of Natural Resources, Natural Resources Conservation Service and United States Department of Agriculture have assisted Ruppert and her team with prioritizing or ranking projects.
"We have limited funds," said Ruppert. "We see what would have the greatest benefit."
This will be the second year in which the program has been funded. Last year was a success, Ruppert said.
For now, she is actively looking at and evaluating potential sites for Trees For Streams. This week, Ruppert will be in West Brattleboro, along the Whetstone, looking at a hayfield that the Vermont Land Trust owns.
She said Newfane had been particularly devastated by Irene, so her crew worked on a few sites in that town and she plans to do another one or two projects there this year.
"There's these huge barren areas where we go in," Ruppert explained. "We planted 400 plants to try and get something growing. Some of those sites, the conditions are really just off because a lot of stuff won't grow now with all the gravel and rocks that's there. We're trying to work with a few plant species that will take hold and re-establish themselves."
Some of the Trees For Streams work included using metal bars and sledge hammers to get willows to stay in the ground.
Students from the Windham Regional Career Center volunteered.
"It was challenging," said Ruppert. "But they've really rallied. I think the landowners are really pleased. There's a lot of hope."
A youth program sponsored by the University of Vermont also volunteered, as well as Brattleboro school students and a Wilmington church group. Other volunteers from Windham County communities spent time working with Trees For Streams.
Ruppert mentioned a planting session that was done in Wilmington, behind the Crafts Inn on Main Street, where the Deerfield River runs. She said 250 shrubs and willows were planted, including dogwoods and American cranberry as well as a variety of other plants.
"We worked with the town of Wilmington and the local business community to clean that area up and make a waterfront area near the parking," said Ruppert. "That went a little beyond re-establishing. We were repairing that area and the economics of that area. It was revitalization of that stretch that was badly damaged."
At the Farmers' Market in West Brattleboro, a hay field that was damaged by Irene was repaired.
"We helped repair a buffer there that was already part of a conservation program," said Ruppert. "We worked with that farmer."
Ruppert said the program has "a hopeful process." She considers it to reach a number of communities.
"This project's pretty far field," said Ruppert. "You go from a barren stretch of land to something that now essentially has a lot of twigs and hopefully, in not too long, things will branch out and begin to grow."
Very early in May, Ruppert will know which projects the Trees For Streams will have approved. In late May and early June, she will be looking for volunteers.
To get involved, call Ruppert at 802-254-9766 ext. 104 or e-mail her at Dana.Ruppert@vt.nacdnet.net.
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.