Graduate Student Receives Grant for Riparian Buffer Study

By Lisa Halvorsen, UVM Extension
November 11, 2020

In the Champlain Valley, restoration of riparian forests, also known as forested floodplains, can be challenging, given the presence of heavy clay soils and stands of reed canary grass, an invasive species that can outcompete native tree species.

A new University of Vermont (UVM) research project will evaluate different management practices to assess survival of native plants when establishing riparian buffer corridors in river floodplains. The results will help landowners who are considering riparian restoration for flood control, wildlife habitat, or reduction of surface runoff to achieve greater success in establishing forested buffer plantings.

Graduate student Stever Bartlett will carry out the project in collaboration with Alison Adams, UVM Extension forestry coordinator, and Kate Forrer, UVM Extension community forestry specialist. Bartlett, a master's student in the UVM Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, is advised by Dr. Kris Stepenuck, Lake Champlain Sea Grant Extension leader.

The study is funded by a Pollution Prevention and Habitat Conservation grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program. It is the first applied research project of the new Watershed Forestry Partnership, a collaboration of UVM ExtensionLake Champlain Sea Grant and various partnering organizations. The partnership was established in 2020 to coordinate research and outreach efforts among organizations that focus on riparian forest restoration and management practices to protect the Lake Champlain basin's water resources.

Researchers will conduct the study on eight Addison County test plots located along waterways with well-established stands of reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea). This cool-season perennial grass was originally planted throughout the country in the 1800s for erosion control and as a food source for grazing livestock. 

Bartlett recently completed preparation of the trial sites where, with the help of volunteers, he will plant 1,200 trees native to Lake Champlain basin floodplains next spring. The sites are located in the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department's Dead Creek, Lemon Fair, Little Otter Creek, and Whitney/Hospital Creek Wildlife Management Areas.

The research, which will take place over the next two years, will examine the survival success of the planted saplings on two adjacent plots at each site. The control plot will be managed using standard techniques with minimal management while an herbicide-free approach to weed control will be employed on the second plot. Bartlett will share results and recommendations through a peer-reviewed scientific paper and a written guide and training for landowners.

The Watershed Forestry Partnership is funded by UVM Extension, Lake Champlain Sea Grant, American Forests, PUR Projet, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, and UVM alumnus Bruce Lisman. Learn more on the Watershed Forestry Partnership webpage.