An Ecological Approach to Riparian-Buffer Definition, and Implications for Timber Harvests in Nova Scotia, Canada

  •  Patricia Stoffyn-Egli    
  •  Peter Duinker    


Riparian buffers in North America usually have been designed to mitigate specific land-use impacts on watercourses, and thus often fail to preserve the full range of riparian ecological functions (e.g. wildlife habitat). This paper reviews the unique ecological characteristics of riparian areas in an attempt to formulate a widely applicable buffer delineation capable of maintaining most riparian ecosystem services.

To avoid ambiguity, the watercourse is defined in terms of its high water mark, which includes flood-prone areas and adjacent wetlands. Published data on the spatial range of riparian functions indicate that the land within 50 m of the water edge interacts the most with the watercourse through exchanges of matter and energy. For maximum effectiveness, the riparian buffer should be continuous (across all types of land use, ownership, and jurisdiction) and its native vegetation preserved or restored.

The delineation method has been applied using spatial analysis to a watershed in Nova Scotia, Canada. A 50-m buffer represents 15% of the watershed terrestrial area. Excluding timber harvest in this buffer decreases the total potential harvestable volume by 11% compared to provincial regulations and by 7% compared to the practices of the local forest-products company.

The simplicity of the proposed riparian buffer delineation lends itself to easy implementation by any landowner with little training and cost, a distinct advantage considering the urgency of protecting freshwater ecosystems. Moreover, continuous buffers can serve as wildlife movement corridors throughout the watershed and are thus an essential component of connectivity planning at the landscape scale.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.