Plant a Forest Buffer

Forest buffers (also called riparian buffers) are the trees, shrubs and other plants that grow next to streams and rivers, and are critical to the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Clean water: Streamside trees & shrubs slow the flow of stormwater runoff, trapping sediment and allowing polluted water to soak into the forest floor’s sponge-like soil. Plant roots absorb nutrient pollution and store it in leaves & limbs. Deep root systems hold soil in place, stabilizing stream banks and reducing the amount of sediment that can wash into waterways. Buffers also protect those on land from rising floodwaters by deflecting heavy river flow during major storms.

Food, habitat & protection for wildlife:  The trees, shrubs & other plants of forest buffers form layers of diverse habitats that native wildlife depends on for food, shelter and access to water. Forest buffers offer safe wildlife migration paths, creating forest “corridors”. Leaf litter, seeds & other plant materials dropped into the water form the foundation of the freshwater food chain, and fallen woody debris creates underwater habitat and provides food, shelter and spawning grounds for insects, amphibians, crustaceans & small filter feeders and fish. In summer, leafy canopies shade rivers and streams, keeping water temperatures cool and consistent. Without it, water temperatures would rise rapidly, fueling the growth of harmful algae blooms and stressing sensitive species. Cooler water also holds more oxygen, which aquatic species need to survive.

Take Action! Because forest buffers can drastically improve the health of local rivers & streams, buffer restoration is a critical part of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. Currently, an estimated 58% of the watershed’s 288,000 miles of stream banks and shorelines have forest buffers, but scientists have found that rivers and streams are not protected until 70% of their edges are buffered!

Important! If you are conducting development activities or altering vegetation (including removing invasive plants) in a Critical Area Buffer Zone (area of vegetation of at least 100 feet, measured landward from the mean high water line of tidal waters, tributary streams and tidal wetlands), you must work with your local government to develop a Buffer Management Plan.

Before You Start

Overview: Project Planning Basics

Overview: School Grounds Site Assessment

  • i-Tree Analysis Tools for Assessing & Managing Community Forests
  • Forests for the Bay Landserver Property Mapping Tool
  • Design and Preparation

    Overview: Project Design & Preparation Basics

    Trees & Shrubs: Choosing, Sourcing & Determining Numbers

    Buffer Design Templates


    Trees & Shrubs: Site Prep, Planting Instructions

    Overview: Project Implementation Basics


    Overview: Project Maintenance Basics

    Tree & Shrub Maintenance Tips

    Identifying & Managing Threats to Woodlands

    Using Your Project

    Overview: Using Your Project

    Eco Schools LEAF Sustainability Pathway

    Eco-Schools WOW-Watershed Sustainability Pathway

    Forests for the Bay (Scroll to Educator Resources)

    Eco-School Sustainability Pathways Lessons & Resources

    Eco School National Standards & Curriculum Alignment

    Project Learning Tree Curriculum Offerings

    Eco Schools Green STEM Initiative

    Sharing Your Project

    Overview: Sharing Your Project

    Resource Center

    Project Resource Library: Learn More!
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    Bay Backpack Teaching Resources Search Engine
    EPA Learning & Teaching About the Environment (awards, resources, more)