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Forested Riparian Buffers

Forested riparian buffer strips of perennial vegetation contribute to sustainable agriculture by reducing soil loss, improving water quality, and stabilizing stream banks. Buffer strips of trees and shrubs improve aesthetics and wildlife habitat. Forested buffer strips also make good financial sense if they are installed through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The forested riparian buffer (CP22) practice allows landowners to maximize the number of acres that they can enroll in the continuous CRP. In fact choosing the forested riparian buffer will allow one-third more area to eligible for the program's 15 year rental payment.

Conservation & Environmental Benefits of Buffers 

Forested riparian buffers consist of strips of trees and shrubs. Riparian buffers act as living filters whichSnow Bird trap excess sediment and nutrient runoff; thereby, improving water quality. Buffers allow water to soak into the ground which reduces flash flooding and allows improved groundwater recharge. They reduce streambank erosion by as much as 80 percent on cropped or heavily grazed land. Wildlife benefit greatly from forested riparian buffers. Studies indicate that buffers support 5 times as many bird species as cropped or heavily grazed land. A forested riparian buffer also allows the maxim buffer width (180 feet) of all CRP buffer practices. Maximizing buffer width maximizes your water quality, wildlife, and financial benefits. Working with your forester you can design your buffer to attract the specific wildlife species that you desire on your property.

Economic Benefits of Forested Riparian Buffers

Financial Incentive

Under the continuous CRP, riparian buffer strips consisting of a combination of trees and shrubs up to 180 feet wide can be planted along each bank of rivers, creeks, and streams. Forested riparian buffers allow you to maximize your buffer width and your financial return.

Financial Incentives include:

  • 50% cost share reimbursement for establishing tree and shrub cover.
  • 40% practice incentive payment for installing a forested riparian buffer or field windbreak (this brings total cost-share reimbursement to 90%).
  • An upfront sign-up incentive payment to assist with the practice can also be included.
  • A 15 year annual rental payment, rates vary by soil type and depend if the land is former crop or pasture ground. Rental rates were increased for the 2012 year.

An Example of How Buffers Pay

Forested riparian buffers not only benefit the environment, they also benefit your pocketbook. For example, assume you have a stream running through your property. The stream length on your property is 80 rods. You decide to put in a 180 foot buffer on both sides of the stream. Your total buffer area is 10.9 acres.

If the forest buffer is on crop ground and your rental payment is $130/acre, at the end of a fifteen year period you will receive from your rental payment, sign-up bonus, and cost-share reimbursement $2,550 per acre or a total of $27,795 . If your buffer is on marginal pasture land you will receive $1,860 per acre or a total of $20,274. You will probably have invested around $700 per acre in your planting to make it a success; therefore, your net gain would be approximately $1,850 per acre for crop ground and $1,160 per acre for marginal pasture land. Your total net economic gain is $20,165 on crop ground and $12,644 on marginal pasture. 

It should be noted that on marginal pasture there is a wildlife habitat practice for marginal pasture. In the example above a landowner who chose a wildlife habitat buffer over a forested riparian buffer on marginal pasture would be giving up $4,536 of income over the life of the practice. 

Qualifying for Financial Assistance Through the Conservation Reserve Program

The continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is administered through the United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency (FSA). Technical assistance for riparian buffer plantings is provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Iowa DNR Bureau of Forestry.

Do I qualify?

You qualify for the continuous CRP if your land is:

  • Cropland must be both planted or considered planted to an agricultural commodity during the 4 of the 6 corp years from  2002-2007. As well as be physically and legally capable of being planted in a normal manner to an agricultural commodity. 
  • Marginal pasture that is suitable for use as a riparian buffer to be planted to trees.

If you have a river, creek, or stream running through your property that does not currently function as a forested riparian buffer (i.e. have a large component of existing woody vegetation), you should qualify for this program. Field windbreaks are also eligible for enrollment under the continuous CRP but are allowed only on crop ground.

When can I sign-up? 

Offers for the continuous CRP are automatically accepted. If your land qualifies and if you are satisfied with the rental rates you are in the program.

Where do I sign up?

You can sign-up at your county FSA office. It is a good idea to call in advance for an appointment to avoid a long wait or a wasted trip. If you want some help determining if you are eligible for the program before talking with FSA, a trip to your county NRCS office or a visit from your District Forester would be a good idea. For more information on who can help you with your riparian buffer project click here.

Forested Riparian Buffer and Bottomland Timber Planning Assistance

Assistance for planning and installing your forested riparian buffer or bottomland hardwood planting is available from theForester Help IDNR Bureau of Forestry. Contact your District Forester for assistance. Your forester can meet with you on your property and design a plan for your project that will match tree and shrub species to the planting site, provide site preparation and maintenance information, and give instructions on proper spacing and planting techniques. Your forester can also assist you in either locating a machine tree planter or a forestry services provider who can plant and maintain your buffer. 

Contact your District Forester

Your District Forester can help you design your riparian buffer or any other tree planting project. He/She can also assist you with managing your existing woodland resource. Click the link above to view a map outlining Iowa's Forestry Districts and to contact your District Forester. You can make an appointment with your forester and he/she will meet you on your property to discuss your project.

Iowa Grown Trees & Shrubs

When undertaking any tree or shrub planting project it is always best to utilize native grown plant material. Iowa grown trees and shrubs from a native Iowa seed source will be better adapted to our climate and growing conditions than seedlings from other regions of the country. There are several excellent sources of Iowa grown conservation tree and shrub seedlings available for your bottomland tree planting. For information on the sources of tree and shrub seedlings from Iowa's private and public nurseries check out the Sources of Iowa Grown Tree & Shrub Seedlings page.

Forested Riparian Buffer Brochure