How to work with Landowners

How do you locate buffers to protect or restore?

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Buffers are found next to streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and other wetlands. Most of the time, these are obvious, but there are forested wetlands (dominated by woody plants) and smaller features such as temporary or vernal (seasonal) pools that can be easily missed, particularly on larger properties. A list of helpful resources for identifying wetlands can be found on page three of this resource from University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

Once you’ve identified these features, you can then look at the adjacent upland habitat; if it’s covered in natural vegetation (typically forest), you have a buffer! If this native vegetation has been converted to lawns or agriculture, you may have an opportunity to restore the area (see below).

Here is a resource for understanding how buffers on private property might align with important buffers for the community.

What can you do in a buffer?

It all depends on where the land is located. Buffers are regulated by a combination of federal, state, and local policies. State regulations that encompass buffer lands are restricted to prime wetlands (designated by a town, but regulated by the state), a tidal buffer zone extending landward 100 feet from the highest observable tide line, and a group of public water bodies covered by the Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act (SWQPA).

In addition to these state regulations, some local towns have developed further regulations for buffers. Information on these local policies can be found by contacting your local Conservation Commission.

Learn more about what’s allowable in buffers.

The City of Portsmouth put together a great resource for landowners interested in maintaining buffer areas; it includes plantings, designs, and more. CLICK HERE for the whole brouchure or browse the plans designed to meet different ladnscaping goals below:

How do you protect buffers?

Protecting buffers requires maintaining native vegetation, typically forests. The easiest way to do this is to adopt a “no-harvest, no-cut” policy within 100-feet of the edge of streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and other wetlands, and to avoid establishing trails or roads in these areas. Establishing a no-harvest, no-cut zone wider than 100 feet will be even more beneficial, but if adopting a buffer area of that size is not feasible for the entire property, establishing it adjacent to wet areas will still provide benefits.

Ensuring these buffers “in perpetuity” requires a legal instrument that prohibits land conversion. This may be a conservation easement with a group such as a land trust or state agency or a fee acquisition in which land is sold or donated to one of these groups. If you are working with a landholder interested in protecting their property through an easement or acquisition, contact their local land trust or groups such as The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests or The Nature Conservancy.

What will it cost?

Permanently protecting buffers on private property requires giving up the right to develop private lands or clearing them for other purposes. This will likely reduce the assessed value of private property, assuming the buffer areas were suitable for development in the first place. The value “lost” through conservation is compensated to the landowner for giving up these rights.

What are the incentives?

In addition to improved water quality, maintaining a buffer can provide a host of direct benefits for a landowner. In many cases, buffers increase the visual appeal of the land and make it a more pleasant place to spend time outdoors. Buffers provide critical habitat for many of our native birds and mammals such as bald eagles and otters, giving landowners the opportunity to enjoy seeing these species in their backyards or woodlots. Where forested buffers occur adjacent to rivers and streams, they will help in bank stabilization, reducing the risk of rapid erosion and property damage and enhancing flood storage capacity.

How do you restore a buffer?

Approaches to buffer restoration span a range from allowing natural revegetation to occur unaided to actively planting appropriate native species of shrubs and trees.

The right approach for a site depends upon its characteristics and the scale of the restoration project. While allowing natural revegetation to occur may seem optimal, there is a risk of invasive plant species out-competing native species. Because buffers are found in close proximity to surface waters, herbicides used to treat invasives should only be undertaken by a licensed professional with the appropriate state permits in place. Given these challenges, we recommend taking advantage of available professional guidance before undertaking buffer restoration.

Who can help?

Various resources can provide guidance for restoration. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, works with landowners on healthy land management practices. NRCS maintains various programs that may be able to assist landowners in funding restoration and facilitate the permanent protection of private land.

Likewise, New Hampshire’s Natural Resource Conservation Districts are able to assist by providing information and technical assistance with sound conservation practices to address water quality and soil erosion concerns. Each county has its own conservation district.