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Standing Strong: Riparian Forest Buffers of the Great Plains

Photo of ​Image of GLEES along with graphs showing results of the study.
​Image of GLEES along with graphs showing results of the study. Snapshot : Water is most likely not the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of the Great Plains, but this region is home to the largest aquifer system in the United States. Concerns over declining water quality exist throughout the region. Runoff from agricultural lands and eroding stream banks are two factors that degrade water quality and are being intensified by sudden and more frequent weather-related events. Riparian forest buffers can help mitigate the negative impacts of these events.

Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2019
Highlight ID : 1617


A riparian buffer is an area of trees, shrubs, or other persistent vegetation next to a stream, lake, or wetland. These buffers enhance and protect water quality by filtering out nutrients, sediment, agrichemicals, and animal waste from runoff while stabilizing banks and preventing erosion. They also provide habitat and travel corridors for wildlife, cooler water temperatures for fish, and protect downstream areas from flood damage. While serving an important purpose, these areas often fail to meet the definition of “forest” employed by national forest inventory programs. USDA Forest Service researchers developed an operational land cover mapping process that uses 1-meter aerial photography to create much needed data describing tree cover for selected states in the Great Plains region. In addition, geographic information system procedures are in development to analyze the tree cover data and create output maps that identify existing riparian forest buffers and nonbuffered areas that would benefit from their establishment. The goal is to increase the adoption of riparian forest buffer renovation and establishment practices to protect and improve water quality throughout the region.