Thursday, June 27, 2019

DCNR Good Natured Pennsylvanians - Austin Unruh & Multi-Functional Stream Buffers

Austin Unruh has a passion for stream buffers; and works to help build multi-functional riparian buffers with Crow and Berry land management.
After getting a degree in an unrelated field, it didn’t take him long to realize he wanted to work outside and make a difference on the landscape.
After learning that Pennsylvania had set a goal of planting 95,000 acres of streamside trees by 2025, he knew that was a cause he could get behind; and wanted to help work towards that mission.
He started attending field walks, landowners meetings, and volunteer plantings to ask what was needed in the field. He learned there was a need for more people doing post-planting care of streamside trees.
He promptly bought a walk-behind mower, borrowed a trailer, and got to work. Since then, he has added the design and planting of stream buffers to the services he offers.
A riparian buffer or stream buffer is a vegetated area near a stream or river, usually forested, which helps shade and partially protect the stream from the impact of land uses.
Austin sees buffers as a very important part of the landscape; and tries to help landowners see it that way as well.
Riparian buffers have many ecological benefits, such as cooler streams, curbed pollution, flood management, and wildlife habitat, however, “we as humans don’t usually act unless we see what’s in it for us,” Austin says. “We try to work with landowners to tailor a tree planting to the goals of a landowner.”
He explains that if the owner wants to hunt on their land, they will plant trees that provide a food source for those animals. Bird watchers would be advised on what to plant to create the correct habitat.
“If they want to pick food for themselves,” he says, “there are tons of edible and medicinal foods like persimmons, pawpaws, and elderberries that you won’t find in the store because they don’t ship well but are tastier than anything in the produce section.”
For someone with a farm or a considerable amount of land, the crop from a buffer could even be more profitable than a field crop.
These buffers, that provide economical benefits as well as ecological ones, are referred to as multi-functional buffers.
The ecological benefits to these strips of forested land are still a large draw for many landowners.
Flood control can be a large burden on the minds of landowners, especially considering recent weather patterns in the state. A properly planted and maintained buffer can also help mitigate that.
For Austin, re-thinking and planning out where and what we plant isn’t just contained to the farm field.
“Rethinking our lawns is a great place folks can start,” he says, “most of us have a lot of lawn that’s wasted time, money, and energy to maintain. Planting trees and shrubs is a great way to start. Pollinator gardens are an even better next step. As a nice byproduct, the birds and bees will thank you.”
Know of a good natured Pennsylvanian who is passionate about outdoor recreation and/or conservation that we should feature? Send an email to DCNR at to nominate someone.
For more information on state parks and forests and recreation in Pennsylvania, visit DCNR’s website, Click Here to sign up for the Resource newsletter, Visit the Good Natured DCNR Blog,  Click Here for upcoming events, Click Here to hook up with DCNR on other social media-- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.
(Reprinted from the June 26 DCNR Resource newsletter.  Click Here to sign up for your own copy)

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