Diligence and vigilance will be required to preserve and foster the flood plain forest restoration efforts that took place over two years on a portion of the Austin Parcel in Waitsfield.
The Waitsfield Conservation Commission, in partnership with Friends of the Mad River, the Mad River Path and the Intervale Conservation Nursery (ICN), recently completed a two-year pilot project aimed at managing invasives – including Japanese knotweed – and restoring a diverse riparian forest as a pilot project on the parcel.
This week, members of the Waitsfield Conservation Commission met with Mike Ingalls, Intervale Conservation Nursery manager, for a closeout and recap of the project and to discuss plans going forward.
Ingalls provided a final report that included recommendations for going forward which commissioners praised for being thorough and rich in details, noting that Ingalls’ recommendations would be the backbone of the plan going forward.
The commission and its partners plus community volunteers spent two years manually cutting knotweed and other invasives, mowing knotweed and planting native species trees to re-create a diverse riparian forest.
CONTINUED THE WORK
Not surprisingly, Ingalls’ report and recommendations are clear about the need to continue that work. Not just the cutting, mowing and clearing, but very importantly making sure that the density of native species that were planted over the two-year pilot project is maintained.
“In the past two years, 416 native plants have been planted in Zone 2, reed canary grass zone, and 118 have been planted in Zone 1, roadside trail. The Natural Resources Conservation Services recommends a density of 250 to 400 plants per acre. As Zone 2 is 1 acre, the density goal has been met. In order to maintain this level of density, ICN recommends stewarding the native plants at minimum twice a year, once in spring and once in late summer. Each year, Zone 2, reed canary grass zone, should be inventoried for living and dead plants. Once inventoried, plant more native trees and shrubs to replace dead. This will maintain the current level of density for decades down the road,” Ingalls wrote.
“As the Japanese knotweed piles continue to shrink and the interior patches become more stressed in Zone 2, ICN recommends continuing to plant native trees and shrubs in these areas. As the piles shrink, the areas to plant in Zone 2 are only increasing. Leaving open patches will leave the site vulnerable for Japanese knotweed and other invasives to move back in. Continuing to plant will provide more opportunity to keep the native woody plant density numbers high in Zone 2. By doing this and continuing to remove invasives, the functionality of the flood plain forest will only increase,” he continued.
INVASIVE SPECIES TAKEOVER
“When ICN came on site in 2018, it was obvious that the Austin Parcel was functioning well as a flood plain forest, but that its trajectory was leaning towards invasive species takeover soon. In the first year of stewarding, this became more obvious as the Japanese knotweed came back more vigorously than previously observed. With the Japanese knotweed patches shrinking and the decreased number of fruiting woody invasives, the parcel has been steered towards becoming a fully functioning flood plain forest with a dominance of native species instead of invasives. In order to maintain this trajectory, the labor hours on site per year need to remain steady,” he wrote.
Commissioners asked Ingalls about his experiences with other towns, specifically what happens if the recommendations are not followed. His response was that each project is different, but he did emphasize the important and hard work of continually re-engaging the community so that people show up for community cutting and planting days.
Ingalls and the commissioners discussed how restoration of a riparian flood plain along the Mad River is in keeping with the state’s Clean Water Initiative and whether the project or others like it might be candidates for state grants going forward.
“There may be grant funding coming. We’re restoring the flood plain and you’re all eager to do the right thing. We’re looking for grants to then reach out to folks like you. We have a few grant proposals for 2020 and if we do receive them, I’m prepared to reach out to The Valley folks,” Ingalls said.