Conservation Buffers

What is a conservation buffer?

A conservation buffer is a small strip of land in permanent vegetation that helps to control an environmental problem or concern.  They are typically less expensive to install than other practices which require more engineering and construction.  There are many different types of buffers such as a windbreak which we discussed in a previous article,  shelter belts, field borders,  alley cropping,  areas of shallow water,  living snow fences, contour grass strips, vegetative barriers, and riparian buffers.  Each serve a different purpose or help control a particular concern.

Why are they important?

There are a multitude of reasons a buffer can be beneficial.  Riparian buffers, for example, can be quite beneficial in enhancing water quality.  By slowing the water flow, the velocity of nutrient rich water is slowed, thus reducing bacteria, sediment and pesticides in the waterway.  Forested riparian buffers, which include both grass and trees, also enhance streams by providing woody debris which in turn provides better habitat for fish and other aquatic wildlife.

Grassed waterways can prevent gully erosion and can also trap sediments and other pollutants.  Similarly, contoured grass strips can prevent these things as well and also provide a wildlife habitat.

Conservation buffers can provide connecting pathways for wildlife from habitat to another and protect them from inclement weather conditions.  Buffers such as windbreaks and shelter belts can conserve energy and reduce noise and odor.  Living snow fences can minimize the amount of snow deposited near particular structures, roads, and other property.

In addition, the NRCS states that Conservation buffers may be of economic value to land owners because of the financial incentives associated with conservation programs such as CPR  (Conservation Reserve Program) and WHIP (Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program).  Many state and local governments offer financial incentives for conservation buffers as well.  To find out more about these programs, contact your local USDA office or contact us at

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