Riparian Forest Buffers

A riparian area is the land adjacent to a stream or river or other waterbody. The vegetation in riparian areas provides many benefits such as removing nutrients and sediment from runoff water, protecting water quality, enhancing aquatic habitat, and providing shade to water bodies. Many riparian areas are naturally vegetated; however, many riparian areas have been destroyed or need to be enhanced to realize the benefits listed above. The NRCS provides financial assistance to landowners to restore or The Conservation Corner: Vol. 2, Issue 1 enhance riparian zones including the establishment of riparian forest buffers (Conservation Practice 391).

Arieal view of riparian forest buffer between river and row crop field

This practice involves the planting of selected permanent woody vegetation and shrubs in a strip of a designed width along the riparian area for the purposes of obtaining the benefits mentioned above, as well as providing food and habitat for wildlife. Research on Riparian forest buffers established between streams and agricultural land use have been shown to be up to 80% effective in removing nitrogen and phosphorus from runoff. Riparian forest buffers provide a conservation practice that can be managed separately from in-field agricultural practices and yet maintain effectiveness in managing agricultural runoff.

For more information, contact your local USDA Service Center or your local County Extension office. For further reading check out these publications on riparian buffers:

Riparian Buffers: Functions and Values

A Riparian Area Assessment Guide for Streamside Landowners

– Mike Daniels