Forest Buffers (Riparian Buffers)


Forest buffers also help control flooding and erosion while creating habitat for wildlife. Mature forest buffers may remove up to 90 percent of the nutrients running off the land. In addition to their ability to improve water quality, their value for enhancing terrestrial and aquatic habitat make forest buffers a highly desirable practice.

Initiation protocol:

Contact the local Soil Conservation District or University of Maryland Extension for assistance. Invasive species control should be undertaken prior to tree planting.

Public acceptance:

Widely accepted as a water quality improvement practice and habitat enhancement.

Implementation Factors (level of difficulty):

Moderate. There are annual maintenance requirements which generally decrease as the trees mature.

Funding Sources / Options:

Funding is provided by the Maryland Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Agriculture for implementation and land rental rates. Cost-share grants are available to plant riparian forest buffers through the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share (MACS) Program and USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). In addition, many local watershed organizations participate in tree planting programs.


Costs estimated as $ per acre of practice installed.

Cost Estimates EPA MDA Wieland Average
Initial $1,791 $3,300 $969 $2,020
Annual $140 $133 $212 $161.67
Lifespan (yrs) 20 15 15 20
Annualized $229.55 $353 $276.60 $286.38

Load Reduction Efficiency:

Average Total Nitrogen removed per acre of practice per year


23.21 lbs.


54.57 lbs.


86.43 lbs.

Cost per pound removed = between $4 and $15

Average Total Phosphorous removed per acre of practice per year


0.65 lbs.


1.86 lbs.


3.69 lbs.

Cost per pound removed = between $96 and $543

Average Total Suspended Solids removed per acre of practice per year


159 lbs.


617 lbs.


2,912 lbs.

Cost per pound removed = between $0.12 and $2.22

Operation & Maintenance:

Initial maintenance includes watering in drought conditions and maintenance of tree shelters (if installed). After the first few growing seasons, these shelters should be removed.

Climate Change Considerations:

Trees serve as a great carbon bank! Forest buffers have been shown to sequester 3,036 pounds of carbon per year.

Planning Questions to Consider:

Are there utility considerations in the immediate vicinity (both above and below ground)?

Local Project Examples:

Oxford Conservation Park reforestation, Talbot County

Description: The project is located in a 82-acre county-owned passive recreation park within the Tred Avon River watershed, a tributary of the Choptank River.  A 5-acre reforestation project was designed and constructed to treat surface water runoff and shallow groundwater from 5 acres of former cropland. 

Pollution Reduction Estimates:

Nitrogen   7.06 lbs/yr

Phosphorus   0.23 lbs/yr 

Sediment   80.37 lbs/yr

Costs: $56,500.00 (entire project including reforestation paid by Talbot County)

Design: A. Morton Thomas & Assoc. Inc., Center for Watershed Protection

Construction: Speakman Nurseries Inc.


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