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Home > Protecting Our Lands & Waters > Conservation > Conservation Practices > Forested Riparian Buffer

Conservation Practices
Minnesota Conservation Funding Guide


Forested Riparian Buffer

Forested riparian buffers protect wildlife habitat, water quality. Photo courtesy USDA NRCS.
Forested riparian buffers protect wildlife habitat, water quality. Photo courtesy USDA NRCS.

Agricultural landscape with riparian forest buffers and other types of conservation buffers. Photo courtesy USDA NRCS.
Birdseye view of an agricultural landscape with riparian forest buffers and other types of conservation buffers. Photo courtesy USDA NRCS.

Newly planted trees (in tubes) along a stream. Photo courtesy USDA NRCS.
Newly planted trees (in tubes) along a stream. Photo courtesy USDA NRCS.

Forested riparian buffers are linear multiple-row plantings of trees, shrubs and grass designed primarily for water quality and wildlife habitat purposes. They are planted strategically along rivers, streams, lakes and some wetlands to prevent potential pollutants in agricultural runoff (sediment, nutrients, pesticides, pathogens) from reaching surface waters.

In Minnesota, forested buffers are best suited for landscapes that were originally forested or wooded, as opposed to prairie landscapes. The width, layout and plant composition of forested riparian buffers vary depending on floodplain characteristics, landowner goals and conservation program requirements. In Minnesota, forested riparian buffers are at least 35 feet wide but range up to 100 feet or wider for water quality purposes and up to 600 feet wide for wildlife habitat purposes.

Why establish riparian buffers on your land?

Environmental benefits

  • Protects water quality by reducing the amount of sediment, excess nutrients, pesticides and other pollutants entering streams, ditches, lakes, wetlands and other surface waters
  • Reduces excess nutrients and other chemicals in shallow groundwater flow
  • Slows flood waters and reduces stream water volume
  • Helps stabilize streambanks and shorelines through root absorption
  • Provides shade, shelter and food for fish and other aquatic species; shade is especially important for coldwater species
  • Provides habitat and travel corridors for diverse plants and animals—especially birds, reptiles and others that require water with adjacent woods

Practical benefits

  • Provides woodland recreational opportunities such as fishing, hunting, birding, hiking and camping
  • Provides opportunities for additional income from timber, firewood and specialty woodland products such as nuts, berries, mushrooms, medicinal plants and decorative floral materials such as flowers, boughs, stems and vines
  • Creates a highly visible sign of good stewardship, especially along recreational streams
  • Provides an alternative for frequently flooded cropland, and may reduce flood damage on adjacent cropland
  • Aids compliance with Minnesota shoreland rules and agricultural setback requirements
  • Straightens irregular fields, keeps farm machinery away from steep banks and avoids the need to plant end-rows where crop yields are often lower due to soil compaction
  • Provides a barrier against nearby dust, odor, noise or light pollution
  • Adds scenic beauty and may increase property values
  • Provides habitat for important pollinator species that many crops rely

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Similar & related practices

More information

Guidance from USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

National Agroforestry Center publications

    Other resources

    Contact

    See contacts for specific programs that fund this practice in the side-by-side payment comparison or contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District