Benefits of Streamside Forests

Brook trout once inhabited every cold water stream in the mid-Atlantic and northeast region of the U.S., but populations have dramatically declined during the past 200 years.

The removal of streamside forests has greatly contributed to this decline and habitat loss for the brook trout. Hence, the restoration of streamside forests is a way to improve water and habitat quality of streams and a “necessary pre-requisite” to help restore healthy trout populations.

The following are resources that make the case for streamside forests as a means to restore and protect our watersheds.

For the Public

For Communities

  • In Support of Streamside Forests. Stroud Water Research Center. Downloadable materials describing selected benefits of riparian forests.
  • Dutcher, D., Finley, J.C., Luloff, A. E., Johnson, J. 2004. Landowner Perceptions of Protecting and Establishing Riparian Forests: A Qualitative Analysis. Society and Natural Resources, 17:319.
  • Ernst, C., Gullick, R., Nixon, K. 2004. Protecting the Source: Conserving Forests to Protect Water. Opflow. Vol.30, No. 5. American Water Works Association. Discusses results from a survey of water suppliers conducted in 2002 which found that water treatment costs for utilities using primarily surface water supplies varied depending on amount of forest cover in the watershed.
  • Stream Corridor Protection Strategy for Local Governments. 2002. University of Virginia. Developed to help local government staff and others formulate protection strategies for their streams, in order to protect the health of their communities.
  • Protecting the Source: Land Conservation and the Future of America’s Drinking Water. 2004. Trust for Public Land & American Water Works Association. Presents a series of best practices to guide communities’ source protection efforts and showcase communities that are linking land and water protection effectively.
  • The Ten Principles of Municipal Forest Riparian Buffer Protection (2005). Natural Lands Trust.

Research Publications

  • Sweeney, Bernard W. and J. Denis Newbold. 2014. Streamside Forest Buffer Width Needed to Protect Stream Water Quality, Habitat, and Organisms: A Literature Review. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 50:560-584. Download PDF
  • Bentrup, G.,M. Schoeneberger, M. Dosskey, and G. Wells. 2004. Conservation Buffers:  Planning and Design Principles. USDA National Agroforestry Center, Lincoln, NE.
  • Castelle, A. J. & Johnson, A. W. (2000) National Council for Air and Stream Improvement
  • Chesapeake 2000 Agreement. Chesapeake Bay Program, U.S.E.P.A. 13pp.
  • Correll, D. 2003. Vegetated Stream Riparian Zones: Their Effects on Stream Nutrients, Sediments, and Toxic Substances: An Annotated and Indexed Bibliography of the world literature, including buffer strips and interactions with hyporheic zones and floodplains.
  • Davies, P. E., and M. Nelson. 1994. Relationships between Riparian Buffer Widths and the Effects of Logging on Stream Habitat, Invertebrate Community Composition and Fish Abundance. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 45:1289-1305.
  • Dukes, M. D., R. O. Evans, J. W. Gilliam, and S. H. Kunickis. 2002. Effect of riparian buffer width and vegetation type on shallow groundwater quality in the Middle Coastal Plain of North Carolina. Transactions of the ASAE 45:327-336.
  • Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002. Public Law 107-171, USA.
  • Hickey, M. B. C., and B. Doran. 2004. A review of the efficiency of buffer strips for the maintenance and enhancement of riparian ecosystems. Water Quality Research Journal of Canada 39:311-317.
  • Horwitz, R. J., Hession, W. C., Sweeney, B. W. Effects of Forested and Unforested Riparian Zones on Stream Fishes. 2000. Proc. American Water Resources Association International Conference on Riparian Ecology and Management in Multi-Land Use Watersheds (American Water Resources Association, VA), pp. 197-202.
  • Johnson, S. L. & Jones, J. A. (2000) Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 57, 1–10.
  • Kelly, D. J., Bothwell, M. L. & Schindler, D. W. (2003) Ecology 84, 2724–2740.
  • King, S. E. 2005. M. S. Thesis. NC State University.
  • Lee, K. E., R. M. Goldstein, and P. E. Hanson. 2001. Relation between fish communities and riparian zone conditions at two spatial scales. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 37:1465-1473.
  • Lee, P., C. Smyth, and S. Boutin. 2004. Quantitative review of riparian buffer width guidelines from Canada and the United States. Journal of Environmental Management 70:165-180.
  • Lowrance, R., L. S. Altier, J. D. Newbold, R. R. Schnabel, P. M. Groffman, J. M. Denver, D. L. Correll, J. W. Gilliam, J. L. Robinson, R. B. Brinsfield, K. W. Staver, W. C. Lucas, and A. H. Todd. 1995. Water quality functions of riparian forest buffer systems in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Chesapeake Bay Program Technology Transfer Report. in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA 903-R-95-004 CBP/TRS 134/95.
  • Lowrance, R., L. S. Altier, J. D. Newbold, R. R. Schnabel, P. M. Groffman, J. M. Denver, D. L. Correll, J. W. Gilliam, J. L. Robinson, R. B. Brinsfield, K. W. Staver, W. C. Lucas, and A. H. Todd. 1997. Water quality functions of riparian forest buffer systems in the Chesapeake Bay Watersheds. Environmental Management 21:687-712.
  • Lowrance, R., R. G. Williams, S. R. Inamdar, D. D. Bosch, and J. M. Sheridan. 2001. Evaluation of coastal plain conservation buffers using the riparian ecosystem management model. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 37:1445-1455.
  • Newbold, J. D., D. C. Erman, and K. B. Roby. 1980. Effects of logging on macroinvertebrates in streams with and without buffer strips. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 37:1076-1085.
  • Pennsylvania Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. 2003. Addendum Agreement: Commonwealth of PA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Commodity Credit Corporation.
  • Phillips, J. D. 1989. Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Effectiveness of Riparian Forests Along a Coastal Plain River. Journal of Hydrology 110:221-237.
  • Rutherford, J. C., Davies-Colley, R. J., Quinn, J. M., Stroud, M. J. & Cooper, A. B. 1999. Stream shade: Towards a restoration strategy. Wellington, New Zealand Department of Conservation Rept.
  • Sonoda, K., J. A. Yeakley, and C. E. Walker. 2001. Near-stream landuse effects on streamwater nutrient distribution in an urbanizing watershed. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 37:1517-1532.
  • Spackman, S., and J. W. Hughes. 1995. Assessment of minimum stream corridor width for biological conservation: species richness and distribution along mid-order streams in Vermont, USA. Biological Conservation 71:325-332.
  • Stewart, J. S., L. Z. Wang, J. Lyons, J. A. Horwatich, and R. Bannerman. 2001. Influences of watershed, riparian-corridor, and reach-scale characteristics on
    aquatic biota in agricultural watersheds. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 37:1475-1487.
  • Schmitt, T. J., M. G. Dosskey, K. D. Hoagland. 1999. Filter strip performance for different vegetation, widths, and contaminants. J. Environmental Quality 28:1479-1489.
  • Sweeney, B.W. 1993. Effects of Streamside Vegetation on Macroinvertebrate Communities of White Clay Creek in Eastern North America. Proceedings of Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (144)-291-340. Request PDF.

“The presence or absence of trees on land adjacent to stream channels is shown to significantly affect the structure and function of macroinvertebrate communities in White Clay Creek, a Piedmont stream in southeastern PA)”

  • Sweeney, B.W., T.L. Bott, J.K. Jackson, L.A. Kaplan, J.D. Newbold, L.J. Standley, W.C. Hession, and R.J. Horwitz. 2004. Riparian Deforestation, Stream Narrowing, and Loss of Stream Ecosystem Services. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101(39):14132-14137. Request PDF.

“Not only do forest buffers prevent nonpoint source pollutants from entering small streams, they also enhance the in-stream processing of both nonpoint and point source pollutant, thereby reducing their impacts on downstream rivers and estuaries.”

  • Vellidis, G., R. Lowrance, P. Gay, and R. K. Hubbard. 2003. Nutrient transport in a restored riparian wetland. Journal of Environmental Quality 32:711-726.
  • Wenger, S. 1999. A review of the scientific literature on riparian buffer width, extent, and vegetation. Publication of the Office of Public Service and Outreach, Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia. 58pp.

One of the most comprehensive and authoritative reviews of buffer width literature. Wenger (1999) who considered over 140 articles and books in order to establish a legally –defensible basis for determining riparian buffer width, extent and vegetation. In this review, Wenger recommends a 100-foot baseline buffer to give “greatest level of protection for stream corridors” with additional width to compensate for slope (e.g., 2 additional feet per 1% slope) and other factors (e.g., extend the width by the width of any impervious surface in the proposed buffer). He calls this recommendation “conservative” but “defensible given the literature reviewed here.”

Watershed restoration