Learn more here about why planting streamside buffers is a good conservation practice that benefits stream health, wildlife, and people in Washington County.
When you take steps to improve the width and health of streamside buffers, your conservation values are protected in these valuable ways:
Your buffer helps keep water cool.
Increased water temperatures in streams where vegetation along the banks has been removed or replace with invasive weeds contribute to increased water temperatures in the Tualatin River. This can be a particular problem for native cold water fish during the lower flow summer months. Higher water temperatures lead to lower levels of dissolved oxygen, which fish depend on to breath. Removing low growing invasives and replacing them with health native plants that create a shady canopy of tree branches and leaves over the stream helps solve this problem. The shade provided by this canopy keeps water temperatures cooler, both in the local stream and throughout the Tualatin River basin.
Your buffer slows and filters run-off.
Since they slow down the flow of water running across the surface of the land, the plants in streamside buffers help to stop pollutants from reaching the stream. Water carrying phosphorus and nitrogren from fertilizers, as well as eroded soil, is slowed down. Much of the eroded soil is able to settle out, and much of the water is absorbed into the ground along with these nutrients. Reducing the amount of nutrients reaching the stream can also help prevent unwanted algae growth over time. The Stroud Center published a case study showing that creating a forest buffer can in fact keep on average 43% of sediment and 27% of nutrients such as nitrogen from entering a stream. They have also shown that improved stream health due to a forest buffer can increase the level of in-stream processing of nutrients and organic matter by 2-8 fold.
Your buffer helps stabilize the bank and reduce erosion while increasing soil health.
Many invasive weeds have shallower root structures than native plants, and they tend to form a monoculture. As a result, invasive weeds provide a less complex root system than a variety of native plants would. This reduces the variety of habitat underground for soil microorganisms, reducing soil health, and may leave streambanks more vulnerable to erosion. Some invasive weeds like knotweed actually attract other pests like nutria, encouraging erosion even further. Removing these invasive weeds and replacing them with a variety of native trees and shrubs helps create more diverse and deeper root structures that over time can help stabilize soil and improve soil health.
Your buffer increases food and shelter for wildlife and pollinators.
By providing an array of flowering native shrubs and trees that bloom at different times of the year, a streamside buffer has the secondary benefit of helping support native pollinators. Many of our native pollinators are solitary bees that rely on a constant supply of food rather than storing nectar and pollen in hives. Many of these bees are also ground or wood nesting bees – buffers provide woody material for nesting and shelter ground nesting sites. As any farmer knows, what is good for the bees is good for the farm. Increased bee populations support higher crop yields and lower pollination costs.
Your buffer slows the spread of invasive weeds.
Our streamside buffer projects begin with clearing invasive weeds from the site. These weeds do not create a canopy to shade and cool the stream, they have very little value for native wildlife and insects, and they do a poor job of knitting soils together at the streambank, which may lead to more erosion. They also out-compete the native plants that serve those very functions better. By removing invasive weeds and planting native trees and shrubs densely in their place, we are able to beat these bullies at their own game. A healthy, dense streamside buffer will shade out new weeds over time and help prevent their spread throughout the county along stream corridors.
Your buffer can support storage of atmospheric carbon taken up by groundcover, shrubs and trees.
These benefits are most valuable when you commit to your buffer project for the long haul. Options such as the conservation stewardship agreement and incentives for longer term projects help you to protect your buffer and these benefits for years to come. Studies show that in many agricultural areas, there is great opportunity to increase the storage of carbon in a measurable way.
Your buffer supports our local economy.
Every dollar invested in restoring a streamside buffer travels through our economy in several ways. We hire employees to design and manage projects and contractors to plant them. These contractors are small, local businesses. To get the work done, they hire field crews, rent or purchase equipment, and buy goods and services, including hundreds of thousands of locally sourced native plants. When this employment is local, employees spend wages on goods and services to support their livelihoods in our local communities. According to the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, “the payoffs of habitat restoration projects yield immediate jobs at a level very similar to traditional infrastructure investments.” The University of Oregon reports that, statewide, OWEB’s investments support about 230 jobs per year, or roughly 7 jobs and up to 2 small businesses per county. But the economic impacts of restoration go well beyond job creation. Streamside buffers help control invasive weeds, and recent studies show that 25 of Oregon’s most significant invasive noxious weeds cause an estimated annual loss of about $83.5 million to the state’s economy (Economic Impact From Selected Noxious Weeds in Oregon by The Research Group, LLC of Corvallis for ODA).
Learn more about Oregon’s Restoration Economy in this report.
Your buffer helps restore and support natural areas, and that means better health in our community.
According to the Stroud Center, there are many benefits to human well being from restoration work as well: “Studies showing how trees and the open space of buffers increase neighboring property values, absorb CO2 and release oxygen, recharge groundwater, and provide healthy aquatic habitats for human recreation, freshwater fish, and other aquatic life.” Even more important may be the connection between natural areas, especially those with trees, and human health. A lot of emphasis is placed on the role of urban trees in protecting health, but rural trees are important too. In fact, the removal of pollution by trees in rural areas is substantially higher than that in urban areas. Even without these great pollution removing functions, trees and the natural spaces where they grow have direct benefits to human health, especially on conserved land that is protected from harm.
But no one expects you to go it alone.