Buffer Strips - Common Sense Conservationprinter friendly page


Information from the Natural Resources Conservation Service

Today, farms do more than produce crops and wildlife.  They play an important role in maintaining environmental quality.Conservation buffer. Photo from USDA website.  Conservation buffers help protect soil, air and water quality, and improve wildlife habitat.

Conservation buffers are small areas or strips of land that are permanently vegetated.  They are designed to intercept pollutants, and address other environmental concerns. They include:

  • Riparian buffers and shallow water areas for wildlife (trees, shrubs and grass along waterways)
  • Grassed waterways (strips of grass where water tends to concentrate or flow off a field - e.g., in gullies)
  • Filter strips (grass used to trap sediment and pollutants before reaching waterways)
  • Shelterbelts/field windbreaks/living snow fences (rows of trees or shrubs to reduce wind erosion, protect young crops and control blowing snow and dirt)
  • Contour grass strips (narrow bands of perennial vegetation plants on the contour in a crop field, alternated down the slope with strips of crops)
  • Cross-wind trap strips (rows of perennial vegetation planted in varying widths perpendicular to prevailing winds)
  • Field borders.

Buffer vegetation along Bungee Brook.  Photo by Bet Zimmerman.Conservation buffers slow water runoff, trap sediment, and enhance filtration within the buffer.  They also trap fertilizers, pesticides, pathogens, and heavy metals. Root systems hold soil particles together to help stabilize stream banks. If properly installed and maintained, they have the capacity to remove more than 50% of nutrients and pesticides, 60% of certain pathogens, and 75% of sediment.  They can cut down on blowing soil, help trap snow, and protect livestock and wildlife from harsh weather. Conservation buffers also reduce noise and odor.

In addition, buffer strips enhance wildlife habitat, and protect biodiversity.  Vegetation provides cover and habitat for small birds, mammals and beneficial insects.  Buffers can provide connecting corridors that enable wildlife to move safely from one area to another.  They can also enhance fish habitat, by reducing water temperature.

There are financial incentives for conservation buffers, available through USDA conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and Stewardship Incentives Program.

Strategically placed buffer strips can mitigate movement of sediment, nutrients and pesticides within and from farm fields. When coupled with appropriate upland treatments, including crop residue management, nutrient management, integrated pest management, winter cover crops, and other management practices, buffer strips allow farmers to achieve both economic and environmental sustainability.

Tips for more wildlife:

  • In grassy areas:  Plant a variety of native plants that produce fruits and seeds.  Make conservation buffers as wide as practical.  Provide connectivity between patches of forest or other habitat.
  • In wetlands: restore natural wetland plants and water conditions to the extent possible.  Establish wide, vegetated buffers between wetland and cropped areas for waterfowl nesting habitat.  Erect houses for wood ducks, bluebirds, bats, and other wildlife.
Just as trim makes a house look more attractive, well-planned buffers improve the appearance of a farm.  If used as part of a comprehensive conservation system, buffers make good use of areas that often should not be cropped anyway.  They are also a visual demonstration of the farmer's commitment to environmental stewardship.: See managing timber for wildlife.

For More Information:

More Information and References:

The text above was excerpted from:

  • Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA, Buffer Strips: Common Sense Conservation.
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA, Small Scale Small Field Conservation
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA, Conservation Buffers Work....Economically and Environmentally, Program Aid 1615, Revised September 2000.
Conservation Commission
We do not inherit the land from our forefathers; we borrow it from future generations.

- - attributed to Suquamish Chief Seattle