Riparian Buffer Guidelines
The establishment and/or preservation of vegetated buffer zones along waters of the Commonwealth is a widely accepted conservation practice providing numerous benefits to fish and wildlife resources and to the residents of the Commonwealth. The PFBC recognizes these benefits and actively promotes the protection, enhancement and restoration of riparian buffers on Commission properties and other lands throughout the Commonwealth. Additionally, as part of a 1994 Chesapeake Bay Program agreement signed by the Governors of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and an Executive Council Member from Washington D. C., Pennsylvania has agreed to restore 600 miles of forested streamside buffer by the year 2010. State agencies have been asked to take the lead with this initiative in the management of their own lands.
The following strategies will serve as guidance for the protection, enhancement and creation of riparian buffer zones on Commission-owned lands.
- General Policy
All Commonwealth waters (including wetlands) on Commission property will be protected with a stable buffer zone of vegetation between the water and other land uses. Mowing or intensive weed eating to water’s edge or the unauthorized use of herbicides is not permitted within the buffer area.
Existing riparian buffers will be protected and encouraged to develop naturally with a minimum of disturbance.
Riparian buffers may be established by simply allowing an area to grow naturally, allowing natural succession to determine vegetative composition, or can be accelerated with plantings of native shrubs and/or trees.
- Buffer Composition
A forested buffer provides the most benefits when adjacent to Commonwealth waters and should be promoted whenever possible. However, a native shrub and/or grass community is also acceptable if it is a more amenable land use. Native vegetation should always be selected and use of exotics and ornamentals should be avoided.
- Buffer Width
The width of the buffer area can be very subjective depending upon the use of the site. Forested buffers and areas of limited use should be a minimum of 35 feet wide, measured from the top of the bank or shoreline. On areas that have been routinely mowed for aesthetic reasons, a minimum five-foot strip of denser vegetation should be established from the water's edge.
- Buffer Maintenance
Riparian buffer areas should be allowed to grow naturally and with a minimum of disturbance. Any removal of noxious plant species and exotics should be done mechanically whenever possible. If chemicals are to be considered, they need to be approved for use near water, be used in accordance with label instructions and conform to all Federal, State and Local regulations. Grass buffers in more manicured areas can be maintained by occasional weed eating, but should remain considerably denser and higher than the adjacent mowed lawn.
Larger woody debris found within the stream channel, on the streambanks or elsewhere in the riparian zone should be left as habitat for aquatic and terrestrial animals, unless it is causing property damage or posing a public health or environmental safety hazard.
- License Agreement Lands
Generally, all of the requirements and guidelines of this buffer policy will apply to wholly owned Commission properties or those under some form of License Agreement. Specific recommendations for agreements will be handled individually through the Real Estate Section.