Restoring Vanished Landscapes: Vermont’s Wetlands
A conversation with VLT Ecologist, Allaire Diamond
On a farm in Franklin County, new life is thriving. What used to be a frustratingly wet hayfield now attracts frogs, herons, and kingfishers, and filters water flowing into the Missisquoi River. And the farmer is focusing on the most productive parts of his farm. VLT ecologist Allaire Diamond worked closely on this wetland restoration project. We asked her about Vermont’s wetlands and why they matter.
Q: What are wetlands and how common are they in Vermont?
Allaire: Wetlands are what they sound like: natural places that are wet. There’re many kinds—forested, shrubby, or open. What unites them is water, from rain, runoff, groundwater, rivers, and streams. Wetlands cover 4–6% of Vermont today, but due to development, we’ve lost more than 35% of our wetlands since colonization.
Q: Why does the loss of wetlands matter?
Allaire: Wetlands hold floodwaters—minimizing the destruction of flooding. They store sediment and nutrients and prevent erosion, which helps keep water clean. For example, along the Otter Creek outside Middlebury lies a very large wetland area. A study found that during Tropical Storm Irene this area slowed floodwaters, reducing the damage to Middlebury by up to 78%. This is unique—not every town has giant wetlands upstream—but it does show their value. Many wetlands also store carbon. They’re hotspots of biological diversity, providing habitat for plants, animals, fungi, and microbes.
Q: Tell us about VLT’s wetland restoration program.
Allaire: We work with interested farmers to identify parts of their farm that might benefit from wetland restoration. When a project makes sense to everyone involved, we look for funding to compensate the farmer and do the work, and we develop a restoration plan.
Last year, we worked with a Sheldon farmer. A field had been drained years ago by a ditch, but it remained wet and was hard to use. We studied how water moves on the land, in the past and now, then restored wetland function in a way that matched the farmer’s needs. We broke up the ditch and dug depressions in the wettest part, so water would settle there instead of running straight into the river through an eroding channel. We planted trees and shrubs.
Q: How do you do these projects?
Allaire: These are collaborative projects—many Vermont farmers are embracing water-quality work on their land, including restoring wetlands. In addition to willing landowners, we work with engineering firms, hydrologists, equipment operators, funders, organizations like the Missisquoi River Basin Association, volunteers, and wetland restoration experts.
After the initial work, we monitor water level, soil quality, wildlife, plants, and more, to see how the land is changing over time. At our first project, it’s been gratifying to see more diverse wildlife and new plants; this tells us we’ve created good habitat.
Q: Can people get involved?
Allaire: If you have land conserved with VLT and think you might have a restoration site, I’d love to hear from you. Also, restored areas need maintenance for several years, just like a garden. We love having volunteers to help with this!