The Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) announced recently that it is accepting applications for riparian buffer planting projects. The deadline for applications from homeowners, businesses and home owner associations is March 15, with fact sheets, the application and plant list available on the Loudoun SWCD website.
Loudoun SWCD Urban/Ag Conservationist Chris Van Vlack says riparian forest buffers have many benefits.
“The benefits of planting riparian forest buffers include protecting streams from excess nutrient runoff from adjacent lawns, pastures, or impervious areas, as well as providing shade to the stream channel, cooling the water and making it better habitat for fish and other wildlife,” Van Vlack said. “In addition, the trees can help reduce stream bank erosion and trap sediment runoff from adjacent land. Finally, the trees provide habitat and food for wildlife and can provide a corridor for wildlife in more developed areas.”
The Penn State University Extension emphasizes that fish are among the wildlife species supported by riparian buffer zones.
“Fish depend on a good aquatic habitat, and a stream without a riparian buffer is not likely to support good fish populations… A buffer serves as the basis for a more diverse structural habitat for all aquatic life.”
The SWCD program incentivizes participants in the riparian buffer program by providing reimbursements of up to $7,000 per acre for materials and labor. Van Vlack adds a word of caution, however.
“The big issue we are currently having is the county’s new floodplain ordinance which prohibits the planting of trees in the floodplain without first conducting a floodplain study and then presenting an engineers certification of no-rise for the project,” Van Vlack said. “These generally cost thousands of dollars and have knocked a lot of the best planting sites out of the running as the HOAs and landowners haven’t been able to afford the costs of the studies. We are the only jurisdiction in Virginia that interprets FEMA policy this way currently (considering tree plantings “man made development” and therefore requiring floodplain studies). In past years most of our projects occurred in floodplain,… We’ve been working hard with our state and national associations on this issue, but so far we haven’t gotten a breakthrough on it.”
Using a property on a large pond south of Purcellville as an example, Van Vlack says areas around water that don’t have existing forest cover make excellent planting sites.
“As long as there is no floodplain, no easements for sewer/water/power/etc, and it’s got perennial water, we can help plant it.”