Establishing and Managing Riparian Forest Buffers

Riparian forest buffersEditor's note
The following abstract describes a publication that is intended for print distribution or as a downloadable PDF. Please see links to the PDF file and ordering information on this page.

Agroforestry is an integrated set of land management practices that helps land and forest owners to diversify products, markets and farm income, while simultaneously improving soil and water quality, enhancing wildlife habitat and sustaining land resources for long-term use. The five practices of agroforestry — alley cropping, silvopasture, riparian forest buffers, forest farming and windbreaks — offer a landowner opportunities for short-term income from areas that may not be currently utilized, like the alleyways between crops or stream side forests.

This Agroforestry in Action guide is intended to help you design and manage the interactive agroforestry practice of Riparian Forest Buffers. Properly applied on a landscape, the riparian forest buffer can enhance and diversify farm income opportunities, improve the environment and create wildlife habitat. By developing an understanding of the interactions between the buffer (trees, shrubs and grasses), the stream or bank, and the adjacent upland area, its layout can effectively meet the goals for which it has been established. By understanding the requirements of each of the components of the buffer, it can be managed to maintain effectiveness over time, and also sustain its contributions to the farm as an integrated agroforestry practice.

Riparian forest buffers

What is a riparian forest buffer?

Riparian forest buffers are planned combinations of trees, shrubs, grasses, forbs and bioengineered structures adjacent to, or within, a stream designed to mitigate the impact of land use on the stream or creek. At the landscape level, riparian forest buffers link the land and aquatic environment, and perform vital ecological functions as a part of the network of watersheds that connect forest, agricultural and urban lands. By establishing, or managing, trees, shrubs and grasses in the zone adjacent to streams or creeks, water quality can be sustained or enhanced. However, to be effective, buffer management and design must include plants that are adapted to the specific riparian environment (flood regime, soils and topography), as well as management guidelines the landowner is willing to follow to keep the buffer healthy and effective.

A well established, and maintained riparian forest buffer can:

  • Protect water quality
  • Stabilize eroding banks
  • Supply diverse food and cover for upland wildlife
  • Improve aquatic habitats for fish and other organisms
  • Generate farm income through products harvested from the buffer


  • Riparian forest buffer zones benefits
  • Planning and design for riparian forest buffers
  • Management and maintenance
  • Marketing value-added products from buffers
  • Financial considerations
  • Frequently asked questions
  • UMCA riparian forest buffers research


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