A call for communitywide collaboration

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By the board and staff of Friends of the Mad River

Friends of the Mad River (FMR) is dedicated to stewarding the Mad River Valley’s healthy land and clean water for our community and for future generations. We bring people together to learn about the health of the land and water, conserve our valued natural resources and celebrate this special place. Our work is grounded in sound science, inclusive education and engagement, and thoughtful action.

It’s all connected in this watershed ecosystem – from mountain-top headwaters to valley-bottom river – and our actions and their impacts connect us all. Our community’s connections are why the proposal at the Austin parcel has sparked such an impassioned conversation.

Friends of the Mad River believes that using herbicides to control invasive species on the Austin parcel is not the best route forward for our community. The community voices we’ve heard combined with the lack of conclusive scientific data urge us to err on the side of caution.

APPLAUDS GOALS

Friends of the Mad River applauds and supports the Waitsfield Conservation Commission’s goals in helping the Austin parcel transition into a healthy flood plain forest, and we have been working in collaboration with them for many years exploring how to best reach this goal. We understand how the commission came to the conclusion to use herbicides to control the invasive species, in consideration of its professional guidance, the cost and effort, and the responses of contractors and their references. We hope that the emerging community energy makes it possible to take the lower risk, less controversial alternative of controlling the invasives manually as we work together towards a flood plain forest.

Due to historic settlement focused in valley bottoms, once vast flood plain forests are now rare. Yet even small areas of flood plain forest can provide important defenses against the impacts of climate change while also addressing the root of the problem. At the Austin parcel, a flood plain forest would help: pull carbon dioxide out of the air and store it; spread floodwaters and dissipate their energy just upstream of Waitsfield Village; remove pollutants carried in stormwater runoff before they reach the river; provide shade trees to offset the negative effects of warming water temperatures on aquatic life in both the Mad River and Mill Brook; and offer corridors to help animals move across the landscape.

ECOSYSTEMS CHANGE

Friends of the Mad River celebrates the fact that ecosystems change through time and we’ve long wrestled with how to care for the Mad River’s transitioning ecosystem. Non-native invasive species are a challenging conundrum. They have become largely unavoidable in today’s global community and some invasives can have both negative and positive impacts on our community. Friends has encouraged behavior that reduces avoidable spreading of invasives and worked to restore ecosystem functioning diminished by invasives where it is critical and feasible.

Japanese knotweed has become a fixture in our watershed. Knotweed may offer important medicinal benefits and is a well-timed food source for threatened honey bees. Unfortunately, its shallow, coarse rhizomes do not stabilize stream banks as well as the finer roots of trees or grasses, it offers poor riparian shade for aquatic life and it inhibits diversity and tree growth. Like other areas where Friends has had interest in riparian buffer restoration, we see the Austin parcel as an opportunity to hasten the establishment of a small flood plain forest along with its important ecological and community resilience functions. Managing knotweed on the Austin parcel’s interior is a necessary step to provide planted trees and shrubs a foothold to establish.

RIDGE TO RIVER

Riparian restoration is only one aspect of FMRs’ broad watershed work. We have been focused, for the last two years, on a five-town, watershedwide initiative – called Ridge to River. Ridge to River aims to work with municipalities, homeowners and land managers to slow rainwater and snowmelt as it runs across the landscape and sink it into the ground before it quickly fills headwater streams. By working together, our community can benefit from less damaging flooding, cleaner water, better riparian and aquatic habitat and fewer eroding stream banks. We’re addressing problems at their source across the watershed in addition to encouraging forests along the river.

We’re energized by the idea spawned in recent dialogue that the Austin parcel could be an important example of our community coming together to restore flood plain forest using the least harmful methods. If the site can be a demonstration of communitywide collaboration, thoughtful stewardship, creativity and balance with regard to invasive and native species, then it can become a model for homeowners and other land managers facing the same situations.

To move forward, this project will need broad community support. We will need to work together, to listen to each other and to recognize the potential challenges we face. This is not a short-term undertaking and its success will lie in people holding onto their energy and enthusiasm and showing up again and again. This is a worthy endeavor and FMR will ask our members to be dedicated volunteers for this project, work with existing and evolving partners and help fund future tree and shrub planting. If you’re interested in volunteering, email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Friends of the Mad River: Richard Czaplinski, board director; Ned Farquhar, board director; Ann Hoogenboom, secretary; Ned Kelley, board director; Corrie Miller, executive director; Sucosh Norton, treasurer; Kinny Perot, president; Jeannie Sargent, board director; Brian Shupe, board director; Katie Sullivan, board director; Lindsey Vandal, vice president.

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