What is a Riparian Forest Buffer and why is it important? A Riparian Forest Buffer is the area adjacent to a stream that contains native trees, shrubs, grasses, and forbs. Riparian, or “streambank” vegetation is the only management practice that can efficiently prevent the loss of streambank soils, and acts very similarly to rebar in concrete in this regard. Riparian vegetation reduces erosion, reduces the overall velocity of stormwater, filters pollution, regulates water temperature, and creates biodiversity providing critical habitat for both aquatic and terrestrial species. A healthy riparian area typically consists of 3 zones: Zone 1 should be an “Unmanaged Natural Area” and can be a mix of grasses, forbs, and woody plants, depending on what the slope is and the frequency of floods. This zone needs to be at least 15’ wide if possible. As you move farther away from the stream, Zone 2 is “Managed Forest” and is generally a mix of trees, shrubs, and understory forbs and grasses that are adapted to both wet and dry conditions. Ideally, this zone should be around 20’ wide. The zone farthest away from the stream, Zone 3, is what is called the “Filter Strip” zone and is usually comprised of plants with a high capacity to slow down and hold water.
Riparian Forest Buffers play an essential role in protecting critical streambanks, improving water quality, and creating diverse habitat for many aquatic and terrestrial wildlife species.
Information derived from the Illinois River Watershed Partnership.