Riparian Buffer Projects

Demonstration of a forested riparian stream buffer
The SEAREC Buffer Project is designed to offer the ag community, comprised of farmers, ag educators, and ag business personnel, the opportunity to see an actual forested riparian stream buffer first hand.  The grant funding of $4,600 provides for all the buffer expenses for four years including: tree & shrub purchase, shelters, site preparation, planting, mowing, spraying, and the identification signs. 

SEAREC Buffer Project
This project was first conceived by Penn State Extension personnel to have a demonstration forested riparian buffer area at the Penn State University, Southeast Agricultural Research & Extension Center (SEAREC).  Since the research farm is owned by PSU, the farm is not eligible for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and with all the current budget constraints was not able to do it without some financial assistance.  The 1.5 acre buffer project  follows the basic CREP guidelines:

•    Includes a minimum 35’ from stream (each side)
•    Amount of trees & shrubs planted per acre
•    Planted with tree protectors
•    Maintenance program for first 4 years

This is a great location to show the public what a forested riparian buffer looks like and can be used as a teaching tool.  Since it is located on a farm that has hundreds of farmers, researchers, and other people on it each year, the PA Soybean Board will receive good publicity for supporting this project.

Overview of SEAREC
The Penn State University, College of Ag Sciences, Southeast Agricultural Research & Extension Center (SEAREC) is located in Lancaster County, at 1446 Auction Road, Manheim, PA,  in the heart of the most intensive farming area in Pennsylvania. Southeastern and southcentral Pennsylvania has a different climate than the rest of the state (a longer growing season, warmer average temperatures and higher relative humidity). Because of this, the work done at SEAREC is applicable to most of the Mid-Atlantic states.  Research on the 156 acres at the Center involves the Departments of Crop and Soil Science, Entomology, Horticulture and Plant Pathology plus the USDA and some county extension educators. In addition to providing specific conditions for research, the facility increases opportunities for growers, consumers, and students to observe experiments and to consult with scientists.

Over 50 projects a year include variety testing of corn, soybean, small grain, forages, annual and perennial flowers, flowering crabapples, strawberries, tomatoes, pumpkin and other horticultural crops. Other research focuses on pest control (disease, insect and weeds), cover crops, inoculants, fertility and environmental management.

Every growing season, SEAREC is host to dozens of field days, workshops, public events, tours and other educational opportunities.

Forested Riparian Buffers
A riparian forest buffer is a streamside forest composed of native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants.  Three hundred years ago this region was entirely forested. The streams were shaded and all the organisms that lived in them were adapted to woodland conditions. As the land was settled, the forests were cut down and replaced with agricultural fields to provide food for the growing population. Today, urban sprawl threatens many existing riparian forests, almost all of which are secondary growth.  Riparian Forests are essential to the health of our streams and rivers in a number of ways.
•    They are natural filters. Leaf litter on the forest floor traps sediments before they can enter the stream. In addition, the presence of trees and shrubs along a stream's banks minimizes erosion and the effects of flooding.
•    They encourage groundwater infiltration. Trees convert the excess nutrients in stormwater runoff into a form that actually sustains the growth of the forest.
•    They provide shade necessary to maintain cool water temperatures and rich oxygen levels. Native brook trout, for example, require water temperatures below 68 degrees to survive, and forested streams are as much as 10 degrees cooler than streams that flow through meadows. In addition, insects, the primary food for trout, are abundant both above and in wooded streams.
•    They enable the stream to grow forms of algae (i.e. diatoms) that are preferred by stream herbivores.
•    They provide food, in the form of leaf litter, for the critters that live in the stream, thus ensuring a rich diversity of organisms. The more diversity of life in the stream, the healthier the stream and the better it is able to process pollutants. riffles and gravel beds that enable fish to rest and stave off predators.
•    They provide habitat and cover for spawning fish. Fallen trees and limbs create plunge pools,
•    They are home to a variety of mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. The forested edge between land and water is prime habitat for many creatures – berries, buds, fruits and nuts offer a varied menu and there are plentiful places for nesting. The Riparian Forest offers a continuous transportation corridor for the migration of plant and animal species.
In general, unforested streams tend to be overly narrow with unstable banks; they have less diversity and less habitat than forested streams; and the quality of their habitat (temperature, light, velocity) is less optimal than their forested counterparts.“We have known for years that the reforestation of stream banks is perhaps the single most import step that can be taken to improve water quality and stream health.” Dr. Louis A. Kaplan, senior research scientist at the Stroud Water Research Center.

The trees and shrubs were purchased from Octoraro Native Plant Nursery, Kirkwood, PA and  planted on November 5, 2011 with the help of volunteers, which included ten students and an advisor from Manheim FFA.  Persons from PSU Extension, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Lancaster County Conservation District also assisted. 

SEAREC employees are maintaining the buffer for four years.  After four years the buffer should be able to grow on its own.  As the trees get larger they will shade out grasses and weeds and form a forest floor along the stream.  A sign identifying the buffer, planting date, and sponsors was installed.  A second sign will be installed by the public road when the road project is completed later this year.

About the Researchers:

Dennis Eby is employed by the Lancaster County Conservation District as Outreach Coordinator.  Dennis served as the principal contact with the Soybean Board in securing the funding grant and coordinated the planting and sign purchase.
Contact Information:
Phone:  717-299-5361, Ext. 155

Jeffrey Graybill serves as Agronomy Extension Educator with PSU Extension.  Jeffrey is based in the Lancaster County office and has expertise in agronomy, soil fertility & nutrient management, pesticide use and safety.  Jeffrey was involved in the planning and planting of the buffer.

Contact Information:

Phone:  717-394-6851