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  • Brooke Fleischman

An Emerging Vermont Seed Partnership



Eastern Cottonwood Seed
Eastern Cottonwood Seed

By Brooke Fleischman


In response to the threats of climate change, there has been a significant increase in reforestation projects across the globe. In the northeastern United States, these projects address not only attempts at carbon sequestration but, more significantly, concerns for river health: water quality, invasive species, wildlife habitat improvement, and native plant diversity, which will all be impacted by a changing climate. With an increasing demand for locally adapted native plant materials for river habitat (riparian) restoration projects, nurseries are struggling to ramp up supply to accommodate those needs adequately. 


Between 2015 and 2020, with traditional bare root plants in short supply, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife, the Intervale Center, and the Connecticut River Conservancy began looking into different riparian restoration site preparation techniques. They focused on developing a methodology that would encourage natural regeneration and prepare seedbeds to allow for direct seeding. While the principles were sound and early trials looked promising, they struggled to identify seed collection sites and gather enough seed to use in these trials. 


The Riparian Lands Partnership (RLP) started as a collaborative in 2021 primarily amongst Vermont Fish & Wildlife (VFWD), Intervale Center, NorthWoods Stewardship Center (NWSC), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). NWSC piloted an 8-month Riparian Lands Crew in 2022 to focus on seed collection efforts and conduct invasive removal efforts on state lands. During this season, they expanded known locations for seed collection and began developing methods for cleaning and storing seeds. In 2023, the RLP hired a Statewide Seed Coordinator (based out of the Intervale Conservation Nursery) to create a more coordinated effort among partners to provide locally adapted, native tree and shrub seeds for riparian restoration -  some of these species including silver maple (Acer saccharinum), shrub willow (Salix spp.), speckled alder (Alnus incana), gray birch (Betula populifolia), quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), and dogwood (Cornus spp.). 


The RLP works closely with local conservation nurseries on native plant propagation and with other state and regional partners on forest restoration projects. The partnership continues its efforts in direct seeding trials alongside Vermont Fish & Wildlife as an alternative restoration approach to planting bare root stock. Each year, we build capacity by hiring field crews (like NWSC’s Riparian Lands Crew), acquiring seed cleaning machines, expanding storage space, and housing a database of mapped seed source locations and phenology data for future restoration use. In the coming years, the seed program expects to understand the demand better, ramp up supply, and create more coordinated and collaborative efforts across the northeast region toward local native tree and shrub seed use. This pilot program has so far received three years of support from the VFWD and USFWS and is expected to conclude in 2025. We are actively looking for additional funding sources to continue this work and hope to establish a centralized seed hub. With this facility, we could expand operations and potentially distribute native seed to restoration practitioners and landowners across our northeast ecoregions. 


For more information or to connect over seeds, please contact the State Seed Coordinator, Brooke Fleischman (brooke@intervale.org) or Riparian Lands Program Coordinator, Jess Colby (jess@northwoodscenter.org). 



Brooke Fleischman is the State Seed Coordinator of Vermont based out of the Intervale Center in Burlington. She can be reached at brooke@intervale.org - Jess Colby is the Riparian Lands Program Coordinator based out of NorthWoods Stewardship Center in East Charleston, VT. She can be reached at jess@northwoodscenter.org

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