When you hear the words “forest” or “environment,” what comes to your mind? I’d venture to say a green, faceless workforce is the last thing you’d describe it as. Yet it’s probably more accurate in describing what a forested environment does for us on a daily basis. When this green workforce is along the water’s edge it’s called a riparian buffer. These strips of diverse vegetation are about 20 to 100 feet wide, and play a key role in supporting the health of the environment, yours, mine, and the wildlife that make it their safe haven. Not only do they offer health and aesthetic benefits but they also offer economic benefits. Did you know that riparian buffers can actually help prevent or reduce the damage done to homes and communities during heavy rainfalls since they can slow down moving waters?
The combination of heavy rainfalls and little or no vegetation along embankments can lead to sediment erosion, which is one of the top most pollutants to moving water. A strong riparian buffer has a mixed root system of native trees, shrubs, flowers, plants, and grasses which effectively holds the sediment in place along with the additional aid of an annual falling of leaf cover. Riparian buffers not only keep erosion at bay and reduce flooding problems but also act as a main line of defense for absorbing and filtering other pollutants such as pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals from moving water. While the water and soil is being filtered through the roots of trees and shrubs, simultaneously the leaves clean up the air we breathe in too!
There is something special to note about stream-bank trees since they are the primary worker maintaining the appropriate water and climate temperatures as well as oxygen levels in the air and water. Aquatic populations such as invertebrates, fish, and other aquatic wildlife depend on these conditions for survival. The great Hemlock Trees are our primary trees along mountain stream banks and rocky edges. Lastly, riparian buffers offer wildlife habitat and a sense of security while they quench their thirst, rest during migratory or travel routes, and offer benefit to those who enjoy watching wildlife.
What can you do
If you have a creek, pond, stream, or river running through or along your property and would like steward your environment, a riparian buffer can easily be established with very little maintenance. Planting native trees, shrubs, and grasses along the water’s edge is a great way to get started. If you’re unsure about what to plant or how to get started you can call up your states’ forestry nursery, forestry department, your county’s university extension office, or your state’s environment and conservation office. These offices can point you in the right direction for your property.
If you don’t have any property that needs a riparian buffer, you can be a steward of your local environment by contacting your local county and town officials to share with them your thoughts about the importance and impact of riparian buffers for your local community.
BiGi! (Be informed. Get involved.)
Next time you’re driving down the road and you see a waterway that meanders through a forested corridor, you’ll know you’re looking at a riparian buffer and how essential they are to the health of your local ecosystem and you. If we take care of the environment it will in turn provide for our needs with minimal effort on our part. At the end of the day the biggest thing you can do is BiGi with your world!