Wildlife Watch: Long-term effort underway to restore Champlain Valley floodplains
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The state of Vermont is using federal grants to buy land around Lake Champlain and create wildlife management areas to enhance and restore wetlands.
The Intervale Wildlife Management Area in Colchester has been used as farmland for many years. Soon, it will get back to its roots. “You are trying to create what you believe was there, looking at historic records,” explained Vermont Fish & Wildlife biologist David Sausville. He says that the 124-acre parcel along the Winooski River is unique because of its proximity to public access as well as conservation value. “We are looking at improving water quality and taking nutrients out before they go into the waterways. It’s also going to provide an area for people to use in an urbanized area where they don’t have to travel an hour or two away. You’re looking at something that is 20 minutes, 15 minutes away and they can go out and do dispersed recreation instead of being on a trail somewhere.”
Reporter Ike Bendavid: What can we see here in the future?
David Sausville: Our goal here is to take the land out of use as grazing land or hay lands and the nutrients that are going to go into it. And we are going to restore it back to the natural habitat that used to be here... We are going to restore the wetlands by plugging ditches. We are looking at creating depressions for vernal pools -- amphibians and waterfowl -- and our long-term goal is to restore the flood plain forest that was here.
Sausville says it’s about planning for the immediate future while also looking at generations ahead. “Usually it takes a year to a year-and-a-half to plan, apply for all the permits, and actually implement and get the contractors on the ground to do the initial restoration work, but this one is going to take a little longer because it’s going to take several years to get the trees established. And really what we are looking at here is a 100 to 200-year process to restore the flood plain to what it used to be,” he said.
But it’s not just the Colchester land where changes are being made to enhance and restore wetlands. Vermont Fish and Wildlife is acquiring land all along Lake Champlain through federal grants worth over $7 million. “This is a larger project that we are working on. It’s a part of a grant through EPA for water quality through the Lake Champlain Basin Program and our partner, DEC, to acquire farmlands and those that are not as productive anymore and retire them and add them to wildlife management area. We have areas in Highgate, Orwell, Panton, and Addison that we have also acquired and are working on at the same time. We have a total of eight properties over the last two-and-a-half years,” Sausville said.
He says the land that the state is acquiring is done in cooperation with landowners. They have been having flooding more than they used to with the changes in the climate. They are also areas that are not producing as well for the farmer, so it’s voluntary. So, what we have done is just approach people and if they are interested, we will work with them to acquire the property if that’s something they’re interested in. Our goal is to really reduce the nutrients that are going into the waterway and also create wildlife habitat that is missing on the landscape within the Champlain Valley,” he said.
A land restoration process that is impacting the larger Lake Champlain Valley ecosystem.
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