White River in Green Mountain National Forest

White River in Green Mountain National Forest. Credit: Peter Hutchins/American Forests

Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont is a gem of the Northeast, providing a variety of recreational activities, such as hiking, skiing, snowmobiling and fishing. The area was designated a national forest on April 25, 1932, and at the time, its health had been compromised by excessive logging. Since then, the health of the forest has rebounded to its pre-logging days, but in 2011, it was dealt a blow when Hurricane Irene battered the Northeast.

In August 2011, Tropical Storm Irene — downgraded from the hurricane that made landfall in the Mid-Atlantic states — hit Vermont, causing unprecedented flooding throughout the state. One of two recorded tropical cyclones in Vermont’s history, Irene flooded most of the state’s rivers, destroying many of its iconic covered bridges, some more than a century old. Of course, the state’s man-made charms weren’t the only ones that were damaged.

The White River in Green Mountain National Forest saw much of its riparian vegetation severely damaged or completely destroyed by the flood waters. Many trees inhabit these northern mountains, including red and white maple, white pine, red spruce, balsam fir and red oak, which were affected by floodwaters in a number of ways. Most common in the wake of Irene was damage to the bark or cells inside the tree, caused by impact with the fast-moving debris carried by floodwaters. Fast-moving floodwaters can also wash away soil around a tree, uprooting it, or can have the reverse effect by depositing large amounts of sediment, which will kill trees through root suffocation. In the aftermath of such flooding, the surviving trees are left stressed and more vulnerable to disease or insect infestation.

American Forests is partnering with the U.S. Forest Service to reforest 41 acres of Green Mountain National Forest with more than 7,000 trees. Many of these trees are being planted by the same local volunteers that pitched in to provide vegetation to the forest years ago. These restored trees will help prevent soil erosion, filter water and provide necessary shade to lower the river’s water temperature to improve living conditions for fish, which include rainbow eastern brook and brown trout, as well as the recently reintroduced Atlantic salmon.

For more Global ReLeaf projects, visit www.americanforests.org/global-releaf.