The LaPlatte River is a calm place to find a natural Champlain Valley environment in the developed corridors of Chittenden County. Now, the Vermont Natural Resources Council has submitted a petition to have the LaPlatte River Marsh Wetlands designated a class I wetland.
The petition area is unique and important for several reasons, said Arrowwood Environmental Ecologist and Project Manager Dori Barton. The wetlands occupy about 275 acres at the LaPlatte’s intersection with Lake Champlain. Fourteen different types of natural communities are present, and because of the diversity of vegetation classes present, the area provides habitat to diverse species, including 22 rare, threatened, or endangered species, Barton explained. Among these are 13 plant, two fish, four freshwater mussel, one insect, one bird, and one amphibian species.
“The wetland provides the following wetland functions and values at an exceptional level: water storage for floodwater; surface and groundwater protection; fish and wildlife habitat; rare, threatened and endangered species habitat; exemplary natural communities; education and research; recreational value; and erosion control,” Barton noted.
Currently, the wetlands are designated class II. This means that development requires a permit and 50-foot buffer, explained VNRC Policy and Water Program Director Jon Groveman. Existing development along the edges of the wetlands has already compromised these areas, said Groveman. A class I designation means further development permits would not be granted, and the buffer expands to 100 feet. Existing development can remain, though further expansion could be limited. Agriculture remains an allowed use in such areas. Groveman estimated that the process should take a matter of months, adding that public hearings will take place.
VNRC is the petitioner, and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources will make the decision on the reclassification. ANR had previously made a list of candidates for class I designation, and the LaPlatte wetlands were on that list, Groveman said. Arrowwood Environmental, an ecological services firm in Huntington, prepared the petition for VNRC, and studied the wetlands for their ecological significance, Barton noted.
Much of the land the petition covers is owned by The Nature Conservancy, which has done studies of the wetlands’ rare plant communities and natural areas. The Nature Conservancy also worked with Vermont Fish and Wildlife to create a report, which is now part of the VNRC’S petition to reclassify the wetlands, Groveman noted.
“This is an area we’ve been interested in for some time,” Groveman said. The wetlands create recreational opportunities as well as providing a number of ecosystem services, including slowing down stormwater and capturing pollutants on their way to Lake Champlain. Furthermore, they’re a unique ecosystem whose preservation will be achieved through class I designation, Groveman said.
“It’s really amazing in Chittenden County to have an area like this. It feels like you’re kind of out in the wild, but you’re in a fairly – for Vermont – densely populated area,” Groveman said. Preservation of this unique ecosystem would be an important goal anywhere, he noted, but “in an area like Chittenden County, where it’s accessible to lots of people, it’s almost more important to recognize it and protect it.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series. Next week, we’ll take a more in-depth look at the ecology of this area.