Conservation buffers improve resource conditions by enhancing certain landscape functions. Major issues that buffers can be designed to address and their associated functions are listed in Table 1.

Most buffers will perform more than one function, even if designed with only one function in mind. Buffer design should take into account intended functions as well as unintended ones that may or may not be desirable.

Location determines a buffer�s juxtaposition to problem conditions in the surrounding landscape. It also determines important site characteristics, such as soil type and slope, that can influence how effective a buffer can be. One location may be better for one function, while a different location would be better for another function (fig. 3).

Figure 3

Figure 3 — Buffer location will determine actual functions.

Geographic information systems (GIS) can be used for identifying suitable locations for buffers. By querying the landscape for site factors required for a desired function, better locations can be identified where an objective can be addressed with a buffer. GIS is particularly useful for identifying locations where a buffer can serve multiple functions.

Table 1

Table 1 � Buffer functions related to issues and objectives

Structural characteristics of a buffer such as size and shape and the structure of the vegetation largely determine how well a buffer is capable of functioning at a given location. Planners can manipulate these variables to achieve desired objectives. The guidelines in this publication address many of these design and management considerations.

Buffers are typically designed to achieve multiple objectives - objectives of individual landowners and objectives of the community and general public. Often multiple objectives must be addressed by multiple buffers with different designs in different locations; creating a system of buffers.

Each objective has its own scale and each buffer function operates at its own scale. It�s a complex task to address multiple objectives and functions. A planning process is a structured method to organize and conduct this task and ensure that all objectives are addressed. The result is called a landscape plan.

A typical planning process includes the following steps:

  • Identifying problems and opportunities
  • Determining objectives
  • Inventorying resources
  • Analyzing resources
  • Developing alternatives
  • Evaluating alternatives and making decisions
  • Implementing the plan
  • Evaluating the plan

Figure 4 illustrates a conceptual buffer landscape plan developed through a planning process. The following page provides a brief description of the plan.

Figure 4 — Conceptual plan and sections illustrating several types of conservation buffers in a watershed. Each buffer accomplishes different sets of functions and objectives.

Figure 4a

Figure 4b

The buffer plan (fig. 4) demonstrates how the buffer location in the watershed plays a key role in determining the functions and objectives for a particular segment of the buffer system.

Section A-A: a buffer designed to filter agricultural runoff to reduce a community�s drinking water treatment costs. This buffer provides habitat and a conduit for wildlife while offering a public recreational trail.

Section B-B: a buffer in a more urbanized area. A constructed wetland in the buffer treats runoff before it flows into the stream. An active recreation area in the buffer provides a firebreak to protect homes. Wildlife still benefits from this buffer but this objective plays a less significant role than in Section A-A due to the buffer location.

Section C-C: a buffer between an agricultural field and a residential area. This buffer serves as a common garden for both rural and urban residents. Noise control and protection from agricultural spray is also provided by the buffer. Products such as fruits, nuts, and Christmas trees can be harvested from the buffer.

Section D-D: a buffer illustrating how the buffer in Section C-C provides aesthetic views at selected locations. Other aesthetic considerations are incorporated in the design to encourage human use. Signage informs residents about conservation measures being used to protect natural resources.

In summary:

  • Consider the landscape context when designing buffers
  • Design each buffer for multiple objectives
  • Be aware of potential unintended effects of buffers
  • Recognize the benefits and limitations of buffers
  • Use a planning process

To begin using this guide, refer to the How to Use section.