Conservation Currents

Conservation License Plate at Work

September 2010

By Shelly Stiles

To those of you sporting a Vermont conservation license plate, I say “thank you.” Your choice of the peregrine falcon or the catamount plate helped field a crew of nine members of the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps in Sandgate in August. They worked on controlling Japanese knotweed on Tidd Brook– and on enhancing water quality and aquatic habitat there.

The project was sponsored by the county conservation district, and was funded by a grant from the state’s Watershed Grant Program, which depends on proceeds from the sale of conservation license plates. Each year, a dozen or more worthy projects around the state are made possible by this program. This is the second year our organization received support for our invasive plant eradication project on Tidd Brook.

Japanese knotweed takes over river and stream banks, wetlands, roadsides, and waste places. It is highly aggressive, out-competing valuable native plants like dogwoods and willows. (In its native Japan, it is one of the first species to move into active volcanic landscapes.) And it makes stream banks unstable, because its rope-like roots don’t hold soil. Invaded stream banks collapse. Sediment buries spawning gravels. Channels get wider. And water gets warmer. It is not a pretty situation if you’re a brown trout or a bottom-dwelling caddis fly larva.

Travel in the Winooski or West or White River watersheds and, for long stretches of river, Japanese knotweed is all one sees along the banks. That’s not the case in the Batten Kill watershed. Surveys conducted by my organization and the Green Mountain National Forest confirmed that Japanese knotweed is just becoming established here. Since it most often moves from upstream to downstream (when pieces of its rope-y roots break off and sprout upon settling downstream), we started at the top of a manageable chunk of the watershed, at the upstream end of the infestation in the Green River watershed – on Tidd Brook.

Someday, we hope, we’ll make our way down the Green River to the Batten Kill. And meanwhile, we’ll seek partners and funding to work from the top down in other subdrainages in Dorset, Manchester, Sunderland, and Arlington. Managing this plant in the Batten Kill watershed will require community-wide participation and help from private landowners as well as public agencies.

Private landowners were a big part of the team in Sandgate. Every landowner from the top of the Tidd Brook infestation to the bottom allowed us to treat on their property. One landowner permitted the Sandgate road crew to drive their dump trucks on his field. (The crew helped us pick up the stems and carry them to an old gravel pit, owned by a different local landowner.) A landowner let the crew camp on his family’s property for a week. Others provided the crew with fresh potable water as needed. And one made the family’s showering facilities available. (The crew took advantage of this offer only once. On principle, they tried not to bathe more than once a week. Kept ‘em tough.)

From beginning – with those who contribute to the Watershed Grant Program with their purchase of the special license plate, to the end – with the residents of Sandgate, the project succeeded because so many people of good will participated. And that includes the young VYCC-ers, to whom our special thanks go.

Shelly Stiles is district manager of the Bennington County Conservation District, whose mission is promoting rural livelihoods and protecting natural resources in southwestern Vermont.