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Riparian Forest Buffers

A riparian forest buffer is an area adjacent to a stream, lake, or wetland that contains a combination of trees, shrubs, and/or other perennial plants and is managed differently from the surrounding landscape, primarily to provide conservation benefits. Riparian buffers can also be managed to include trees and shrubs that produce a harvestable crop along with the conservation benefits, although this is less common. Buffers are used in agricultural, row crop, range, suburban, and urban settings. A wide variety of state and federal programs support the installation of riparian forest buffers on public and private lands.

Riparian forest buffers can deliver a number benefits including filtering nutrients, pesticides, and animal waste from agricultural land runoff; stabilizing eroding banks; filtering sediment from runoff; providing shade, shelter, and food for fish and other aquatic organisms; providing wildlife habitat and corridors for terrestrial organisms; protecting cropland and downstream communities from flood damage; producing income from farmland that is frequently flooded or has poor yields; providing space for recreation; and diversifying landowner income.

Riparian forest buffers can be included in landscape-scale green infrastructure plans to serve a variety of functions, particularly along the rural-urban interface. Green infrastructure is an approach to conservation that involves creating a network of green areas to benefit people and wildlife.

Cattle grazing among scattered young pine trees.
Although riparian forest buffers are often designed primarily for water quality benefits, these practices can also include woody species that provide products such as nuts, fruit, and decorative woody florals. (USDA National Agroforestry Center illustration)

A number of factors can impact the effectiveness of riparian forest buffers in meeting these objectives. These include site conditions such as adjacent agricultural practices and crop types, stream size, topography, and soils; landscape conditions such as position in the watershed, adjacent land use, and buffer continuity; and other conditions such as markets and public interest. Riparian forest buffer planning and design is important for enhancing the effectiveness of riparian buffers.

Information Sheets

  • Infosheet

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    How Can Agroforestry Help Landowners Adapt To Increased Rain Intensity?

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    How Can Agroforestry Help Pollinators?

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    How Does Agroforestry Help Crop Pollination?

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  • Infosheet

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    How Can Agroforestry Practices And Approaches Support Green Infrastructure?

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  • Infosheet

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    Why Add Edible And Floral Plants To Riparian Forest Buffers?

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  • Infosheet

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    How Can Agroforestry Help Landowners Adapt To Climate Change?

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  • Infosheet

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    ¿Qué Es Agroforestería?

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  • Infosheet

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    What Are Agroforestry's Income Opportunities

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    What Is Agroforestry?

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  • Infosheet

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    What Is A Riparian Forest Buffer?

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Brochures

Inside Agroforestry

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    So Many Trees To Choose From

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    Why Agroforestry?

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    Why Agroforestry? Part 2

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Learn How You Can Use Agroforestry To Help Pollinators

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    25th Anniversary

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Finding Agroforestry In The 2014 Farm Bill

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Locally Sourced

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    Helping Wildlife Helps You!

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    Many Paths To Success

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    Extreme Weather

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    Riparian Forest Buffer Apps" For Your Smart Farm"

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    Now Is The Time For Agroforestry!

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    Small, But Mighty

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    Beyond The Fence Line

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    Fuel For The Future

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    A Diverse Portfolio

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Diamonds In The Rough

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    Water Quantity/quality: Half-full Or Half-empty Of What

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    Northern Exposure: Agroforestry In Canada

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    Tool Talk

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    Wildlife Adds Punctuation To The Novel Of Life

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    2002 Farm Bill

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    Getting Buffers On The Ground: A Group Effort

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    Spring 2000

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    ... Including The Carbon Sink

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    Fall/Winter 1999-2000

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    Spring 1999

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    Spring 1998

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    Spring 1997

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    Summer 1997

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    Fall 1997

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Fall 1996

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    Summer 1994

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    Spring 1994

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Summer 1993

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    Fall 1993

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    Winter 1993

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    Fall 1992

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Agroforestry Notes

  • Agroforestry Note

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    Using Agroforestry Practices To Reduce Pesticide Risks To Pollinators & Other Agriculturally Beneficial Insects

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  • Agroforestry Note

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    Riparian Forest Buffers: An Agroforestry Practice

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  • Agroforestry Note

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    An Overview Of Agroforestry

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  • Agroforestry Note

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    A Riparian Buffer Design For Cropland

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  • Agroforestry Note

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    Riparian Buffers For Agricultural Land

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  • Agroforestry Note

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    Guide To A Successful Agroforestry Demonstration Project

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  • Agroforestry Note

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    How To Design A Riparian Buffer For Agricultural Land

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Research

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    High-resolution Land Cover Of Kansas

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    Diseases Of Trees In The Great Plains

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    A Win-win On Agricultural Lands: Creating Wildlife Habitat Through Agroforestry

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    Analyzing The Uncertainties In Use Of Forest-derived Biomass Equations For Open-grown Trees In Agricultural Land

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    Working Trees: Supporting Agriculture And Healthy Landscapes

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    Simulating The Dynamics Of Linear Forests In Great Plains Agroecosystems Unfer Changing Climates

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    13th North American Agroforestry Conference Proceedings

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    A Role For Agroforestry In Forest Restoration In The Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley

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    Indexes For Targetting Buffer Placement To Improve Water Quality

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    Biofuel Feedstock From Riparian Buffers: A Win-win For Climate And Water Quality

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    Branching Out: Agroforestry As A Climate Change Mitigation And Adaptation Tool For Agriculture

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    Enhancing Ecosystem Services: Designing For Multifunctionality

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    Connecting Landscape Fragments Through Riparian Zones

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    Comparative Water Use By Riparian Forest, Grass, And Crops In The Great Plains

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    Multiple Function Benefit – Cost Comparison Of Conservation Buffer Placement Strategies

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    Proceedings Of The ASA-CSA-SSSA International Annual Meetings

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    Indexes For Targeting Buffer Placement To Improve Water Quality

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  • Research

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    The Use Of Forest-derived Specific Gravity For The Conversion Of Volume To Biomass For Open-grown Trees On Agricultural Land

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    A Design Aid For Sizing Filter Strips Using Buffer Area Ratio

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  • Research

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    Improved Indexes For Targeting Placement Of Buffers Of Hortonian Runoff

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  • Research

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    The Role Of Riparian Vegetation In Protecting And Improving Chemical Water Quality In Streams

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    Carbon Sequestration In Agricultural Lands Of The United States

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    Riparian Forest Buffers: Building A Sustainable Bioenergy Future

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    Creatively Communicating Conservation Complexity

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    Colloque Aménagement D'une Zone Riveraine Multifonctionnelle: Pour Une Plus Grande Biodiversité En Milieu Agricole

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    From Dust Bowl To Mud Bowl

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    Methods To Prioritize Placement Of Riparian Buffers For Improved Water Quality

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  • Research

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    Filling The Gap: Improving Estimates Of Working Tree Resources In Agricultural Landscapes

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    Agroforestry: Working Trees For Sequestering Carbon On Agricultural Lands

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    Building Bigger Better Buffers For Bioenergy

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    Buffer And Vegetative Filter Strips

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    A Design Aid For Determining Width Of Filter Strips

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  • Research

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    Modeling Runoff And Sediment Yield From A Terraced Watershed Using Wepp

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  • Research

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    Testing A Simple Field Method For Assessing Nitrate Removal In Riparian Zones

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  • Research

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    Riparian Buffer Design Guidelines For Water Quality And Wildlife Habitat Functions On Agricultural Landscapes In The Intermountain West

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  • Research

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    Using Soil Surveys To Target Riparian Buffers In The Chesapeake Bay Watershed

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    Managing Agricultural Landscapes For Environmental Quality: Strengthening The Science Base

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    Change In Filter Strip Performance Over Ten Years

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    Perennial Crops For Bio-fuels And Conservation

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    Developing And Extending Sustainable Agriculture: A New Social Contract

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    An Approach For Using Soil Surverys To Guide The Placement Of Water Quality Buffers

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    Establishing Conservation Buffers Using Precision Information

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    Precision Conservation In North America

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    Visualizing Agroforestry Alternatives Or Pixel This!

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    Tool Time: Melding Watershed And Site Goals On Private Lands

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    Placement Of Riparian Forest Buffers To Improve Water Quality

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    Synthesis Of Design Guidelines And Experimental Data For Water Quality Function In Agricultural Landscaps In The Intermountain West

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    Visualizing Food And Farm

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    Toward Quantifying Water Pollution Abatement In Response To Installing Buffers On Crop Land

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    Flow Pathways And Sediment Trapping In A Field-scale Vegetative Filter

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    Picture This

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    Modeling Sediment Trapping In A Vegetative Filter Accounting For Converging Overland Flow

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    Modeling Water And Sediment Trapping By Vegetated Filters Using VFSMOD: Comparing Methods For Estimating Infiltration Parameters

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    Agroforestry-Working Trees For Sequestering Carbon On Ag-Lands

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    Inventorying Trees In Agricultural Landscapes: Towards An Accounting Of Working Trees

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    Channel Aggradation By Beaver Dams On A Small Agricultural Stream In Eastern Nebraska

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    Green-ampt Infiltration Parameters In Riparian Buffers

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    Wher Should Buffers Go? Modeling Riparian Habitat Connectivity In Northeast Kansas

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    A Long, Long Time Ago...

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    Computer-based Tools For Decision Support In Agroforestry: Current State And Future Needs

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    The Fourth P: Planning For Multi-purpose Riparian Buffers

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    Controlling Flooding And Water Pollution With Upland And Streamside Vegetation Systems

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    Hydrologic Routing Of Farm Runoff And Implications For Riparian Buffers

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  • Research

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    CBD Technical Series No. 10 - Interlinkages Between Biological Diversity And Climate Change

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    Agroforestry And GIS: Achieving Land Productivity And Environmental Protection

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    Integration Of Woody Buffers At Three Levels Of Spatial Scale In The Urban/rural Interface In Lincoln - Lancaster County, Nebraska

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    Assesment Of Concentrated Flow Through Riparian Buffers

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    Agroforestry: Mapping The Way With GIS

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    Setting Priorities For Research On Pollution Reduction Functions Of Agricultural Buffers

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    Ecobelts: Reconnecting Agriculture And Communities - Case Studies

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    Ecobelts: Reconnecting Agriculture And Communities

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    Evaluation Of A Collaborative Model: A Case Study Analysis Of Watershed Planning In The Intermountain West

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    Landscape Scale Planning For Conservation Buffers In The Corn Belt

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  • Research

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    Planning For Multi-purpose Riparian Management

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    An Ecological Foundation For Temperate Agroforestry

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    Perspective: Agroforestry And Sustainability: Making A Patchwork Quilt

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  • Research

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    (1999) Filter Strip Performance And Processes For Different Vegetation, Widths, And Contaminants

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More Publications

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    Guide To USDA Agroforestry Research Funding Opportunities

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    Inspirations For Creating A Long-Term Agricultural Lease For Agroforestry: A Workbook

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    Marketing Specialty Forest Products

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    Edible Woody Landscapes

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    Productive Conservation: Growing Specialty Forest Products In Agroforestry Plantings.

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    Buffers For Biomass Production In Temperate European Agriculture: A Review And Synthesis On Function, Ecosystem Services And Implementation

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    Profitable Farms And Woodlands

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    Topeka - Sustainable Development: Moving Toward A Greener Community

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    Topeka: Urban/Rural Watershed Solutions

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    RC & D Survey Of Agroforestry Practices

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    Agroforestry In The United States: Research And Technology Transfer Needs For The Next Millenium

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    Integrating Agroforestry Into USDA Programs

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    Working Trees Coloring Book

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https://www.fs.usda.gov/nac/practices/riparian-forest-buffers.php