RMRS Air, Water, & Aquatic Environments Science Program RMRS Air, Water, & Aquatic Environments Science Program

US Forest Service Research and Development

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Rocky Mountain Research Station
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 Air, Water and Aquatics Science Program
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About the Rocky Mountain Research Station

AWAE Program Headquarters
322 East Front St., Ste 401

Boise, ID 83702

(208) 373-4340


Rocky Mountain Research Station Headquarters

2150 Centre Ave., Bldg A
Fort Collins, CO 80526

(970) 295-5923

United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

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Streamside Management Zones

What are streamside management zones?

Streamside management zones (SMZs) are special landscape units that include riparian areas and adjacent lands that mitigate the movement of sediment, nutrients and other chemicals from upland forest and agricultural management areas into streams. The size, shape, and management of SMZs are governed by various combinations of economic, ecological, and regulatory factors. Although SMZs used around the world have a wide range of widths, in many cases they are similar at 5-20 m.


Streamside Management Zone of the South Esk River, Tasmania, Australia (Photo by Daniel G. Neary)

Streamside management zones are important barriers or treatment areas that protect water resources from non-point source pollution. Vegetation and the geomorphic characteristics of SMZs result in infiltration, filtering, and deposition from sediment- and nutrient-laden water flowing off intensively managed forestry, agriculture, and urban lands. The effectiveness for trapping sediment depends upon the velocity of water flow, size distribution of sediments, slope and length of slope above the SMZ, slope and length of the SMZ itself, depth of water flow into the SMZ, and vegetation characteristics such as type, density, and height. Nutrient removal is a function of SMZ width, runoff water residence time in the SMZ, the vigor of SMZ vegetation, and the amount of runoff water infiltrated into the soil during its transit of the SMZ.


Key Benefits/Functions

Streamside management zones provide a number of important functions in ecosystems. These include water quality protection, streamflow maintenance, geomorphic stability, flora and fauna habitat, and social and economic benefits.  While the protection of water quality is highly valued,  SMZs in an agricultural and forestry landscape provide important socio-economic functions which are important for their incorporation as a best management practice (BMP).  The social and economic benefits of forested SMZs in agroforestry landscapes have been recognized as very important for agriculture. Some of the key functions are:

  • Improved aesthetics and property values
  • Improved stock safety and management of gullies
  • Provision of shelterbelts for stock protection
  • Certification of farm products for environmental standards
  • Wood sales
  • Carbon and other greenhouse gas credits
  • Improved water quality for stock and human contact
  • Soil conservation
  • Increased native habitat


Neary, D.G.; Smethurst, P.J.; Baillie, B.; Petrone, K.C. 2011. Water quality, biodiversity and codes of practice in relation to harvesting forest plantations in streamside management zones. CSIRO, National Research Flagships. 101 p. (This report reviews the water quality and biodiversity effects of using plantation forests in streamside management zones on cleared farmland.)

For further information regarding streamside management zones please check out the link below:






Rocky Mountain Research Station - Air, Water and Aquatic Environments Sciences Program
Last Modified:  Thursday, 15-Oct-2015 15:32:03 CDT

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