Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Multifunctional Riparian Forest Buffers - More Than Just Trees

By Danielle Rhea, Penn State Extension Educator

Thoughtful selection of streamside trees and shrubs can have the added bonus of producing fruit, nuts, berries, or woody florals for profit or personal enjoyment.
Having a permanent forest along our waterways, known as a riparian forest buffer, has numerous well-known water quality benefits such as filtering runoff and decreasing pollution, stabilizing streambanks, reducing erosion and sedimentation, regulating water temperature, and moderating flood waters. 
Riparian forest buffers can be thought of as our streams’ and rivers’ last line of defense against lawn chemicals, road salts, fertilizers and other things we apply to the land that are carried to our waterways by stormwater runoff. 
When additional thought goes into plant selection, planting permanent vegetation along streams does not only provide water quality benefits but can also yield products that can be marketed for profit or simply used for personal enjoyment. 
Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) defines buffers that provide opportunities for harvesting products like nuts, berries, woody florals, and more, as multifunctional riparian forest buffers.
Multifunctional Riparian Forest Buffers
In the multifunction riparian forest buffer concept, there is greater flexibility in both the plant selection and management of the buffer so that water quality improvements can be achieved while landowners are able to select and manage perennial plants that can produce a harvestable product. 
In addition to native trees and shrubs, multifunctional buffers may also include native fruit and nut trees, woody floral trees and shrubs, perennial wildflowers, as well as warm and cool season grasses. 
DCNR distinguishes the following three management zones within a multifunctional buffer
Zone 1: Unmanaged Forest
The first 15 feet of the multifunctional riparian forest buffer, starting at the stream’s edge, is classified as unmanaged forest and is planted with native riparian species that will protect streambanks, reduce erosion, control water temperature, and improve aquatic habitat.
No harvesting should occur in this zone, but some herbicide use is allowed as a tool to control invasive weed species as necessary. 
Since Zone 1 is closest to the water’s edge, suitable plants would include native species that can thrive or tolerate wet soil conditions such as river birch, sycamore, swamp white oak, red osier dogwood, and black willow.
Zone 2: Managed Fruit and Nut Trees and Shrubs
This zone starts at least 15 feet from the water’s edge, where Zone 1 ends, and can be 20 or more feet wide, depending on site conditions and landowner goals. 
The permanent vegetation in this area helps with soaking up and storing nutrients, slowing floodwaters, and breaking down pesticides that may have been applied to the uphill land. 
In this zone, herbicide use is acceptable both for preparing the site and twice annually if needed for successful cultivation of harvestable products; however, since this zone is still near the water, any inputs should be minimized overall. 
Some examples of plants that are suitable for this space are elderberry, serviceberry, chokeberry, raspberry, highbush blueberry, persimmon, pawpaw, black walnut, and American hazelnut.
Zone 3: Managed Woody Florals and Forbs
This zone starts where Zone 2 ends and can continue 50 or more feet in width. This section is the first part of the buffer to intercept nutrient and sediment runoff from farms, development, lawns, or other upland areas and it disperses this water to slow the flow and promote soil infiltration and filter stormwater runoff. 
Like Zone 2, herbicide use is permissible both for preparing the site and twice annually if needed, but in Zone 3 mechanized planting and harvesting are also allowed. 
Plants in Zone 3 can be edible, used as biofuel, or have aesthetic qualities and are not necessarily required to be native, as long as they are not invasive. 
Some examples of appropriate plants are dogwood, pussy willow, quince, witch hazel, hydrangea, perennial wildflowers, and warm and cool season grasses.
Products from Multifunctional Riparian Forest Buffers
Depending on the selected plants, a variety of raw or value-added products can be obtained. Native nut trees, like the American hazelnut, produce edible nuts that can be eaten raw or made into nut flours, butters, or candies. 
In addition to producing edible nuts, the husks of black walnuts can be used as a natural dye. 
Native fruit trees and shrubs like pawpaw, persimmon, and elderberry all produce edible fruit that can be eaten raw or used in a variety of other ways such as making jams, jellies, baked goods, and sometimes even juice and wine. 
Woody floral species, such as flowering quince, winterberry holly, pussy willow, and hydrangea can be used as cuttings in floral arrangements or to make wreaths for decorative purposes. 
If growing conditions are right, sugar maples and other maple species can be planted so that maple syrup and other maple products can be made. 
When it comes to multifunctional riparian forest buffers, there are plenty of possibilities to establish a buffer that can both protect water quality and create a harvestable product.
For more information on how riparian buffers improve water quality, consult the article, Riparian Buffers: Using the Power of Plants to Help Clean Our Waterways .
Additional information on riparian forest buffer as well as DCNR’s multifunctional riparian forest buffer concept, visit DCNR’s riparian buffer webpage.

(Reprinted from Penn State Extension April 22 Watershed Winds NewsletterClick Here to sign up for your own copy.)
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[Posted: April 22, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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