riparian photo

"Riverside Lands"

Royal River photo
Lush riverside vegetation protects this stretch of the Royal river (photo
Ed Geis)

One of the most effective ways to protect rivers is to preserve the lands adjacent to them. These crucial riverside lands are known to ecologists as "riparian buffer zones," which buffer the waterway from various substances that might otherwise wash directly into the river--silt, for example, or pesticides and other harmful chemicals. Riparian buffers have a tremendous influence on water quality. 
riparian zone diagram
Diagram: USDA

The simplest, cheapest, most efficient solution to many water-quality problems is simply to leave a strip of undisturbed natural areas along rivers and streams.

Paper mill photo
This kind of development along (and over) the Presumpscot makes the river more vulnerable to contamination (photo Ed Geis).


The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service has launched a National Conservation Buffer Initiative to help encourage riparian zone protection.

National Conservation Buffer Initiative Contacts in Maine:
Christopher Jones
28 Gilman Plaza
Bangor ME 04401
207-990-1957 (fax)

Elaine Tremble
Program Assistant
5 Godfrey Dr.
Orono, ME 04473
207-866-7262 (fax)

Brent Mullis
Program. Specialist
P.O. Box 406
Bangor, ME 04402-0406
207-990-9169 (fax)

Norman Marcotte
Dept. of Environ. Protection
State House #17
Augusta, ME 04333


Plant roots hold the river banks in place, stabilizing the soil and absorbing materials that wash toward the river during rainfall and snowmelt. These riparian buffers protect the waterway and provide habitat for many plants, insects, birds, and animals--and they provide beautiful natural spaces for people to enjoy.

Unfortunately, because many people don't understand the ecological importance of these areas, they destroy them. Developers often build along riverbanks, timber harvesters sometimes cut to the shore, and homeowners clear trees and shrubs from riverbanks so their lawn can extend to the water's edge. 

The result is serious erosion, siltation, increased flooding, higher pollution levels, and habitat loss. This means not only aesthetic degradation, but economic expense. 


What can we do to help protect riparian buffer zones?

  • Maintain or restore waterside vegetation on your own property

  • Help local and regional land trusts to educate landowners, acquire preserves and conservation easements on riverside lands, and to repair damaged areas. 

  • Talk with your town, city, or county officials and ask them to establish ordinances that protect riparian buffer zones.

  • Contact your state representative and senator, Governor King, and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and ask them to create incentives for landowners to maintain healthy riparian buffers.

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