A buffer helps the lake but does not diminish the owners enjoyment
The Lake Fairlee Association has long been extolling the virtues of riparian buffers. They improve water quality, they protect the shore from erosion, and they just look good. The State of Vermont has put together a new web page that explains the whys and hows pretty well.
Choosing not to mow near the lakeshore creates a modest buffer
Vermont’s Act 250 constrains construction and other activities near the lake. Here is a LINK to a document clarifying the expectations of that Act.
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The following is adapted from this excellent web page created by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.
Lakeshore Vegetation and Buffers
Natural lakeshore vegetation is critical to the long-term health of a lake environment. A “buffer” of native vegetation along the water’s edge separates the uphill land uses from the lake thus providing numerous water quality, scenic, privacy and habitat benefits. On this page you’ll read about the elements of a buffer, their values, and what you can do to enhance or protect shoreland vegetation on your lake.
What is a Buffer?
A buffer is a width of vegetated land between the lake and adjacent land uses. To function as a “buffer,” the vegetation should be a natural mixture of trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, and the “duff” layer. Think of it as the native Vermont woods. A buffer has many components (leaf canopy layers, decomposing material, etc.) that function together to protect the lake, and many values (wildlife and aquatic habitat, filtration of runoff, bank stability, scenery, etc.).
A buffer is a naturally vegetated width of land between the water’s edge of a lake, stream or wetland, and uphill land uses. It is composed of a mix of trees, shrubs, ground cover and undisturbed ground.
Multiple layers of vegetation make up a buffer.
- tree canopy
- understory trees
- shrubs of different heights
- low growing groundcover
- “duff,” the decomposing organic matter on the forest floor
These layers treat runoff entering the buffer from uphill as well as allow for maximum absorption of rainfall and numerous shallow water and shoreland habitat values.
The different layers of leaves both hold rain (up to 1/2 inch of rain can be held on the tree leaves) and slow its descent. Rain falling gently will erode the ground less or not at all.
The ground vegetation slows the runoff on the ground, encourages it to be absorbed into the soil, and catches and holds sediments that may be in the runoff.
The groundcover functions to both hold the soil in place and to treat runoff from uphill. Groundcover is a critical component of a buffer.
The duff, or decomposing organic matter, is an essential component of a buffer. Its spongy and absorbent characteristics allow for absorption of runoff from uphill land uses.
The lack of a duff layer is the reason why lawns do not provide the runoff treatment of a buffer, as lawns tend to be hard packed and offer little absorption. A lawn, even under trees, also does not provide most of the habitat values and benefits of a buffer.
The natural uneven ground of woods provides numerous crevices and small basins for runoff to be absorbed and removed of its pollutants
Values and Benefits of Buffers
The shoreland is the critical interface between the lake and the terrestrial environment.
- Aquatic life gains important habitat materials (fallen leaves, branches and trees), food (fallen insects), and shade from overhanging vegetation
- Many birds and animals depend on proximity to water for breeding or feeding and use the wooded buffer
- A well-vegetated buffer will filter pollutants such as sediments and phosphorus out of runoff from uphill land uses
- A buffer of diverse tree, shrub and plant species provides long-term bank stability
- A wooded shore adds beauty to a lake experience
A naturally vegetated buffer along lakes provide numerous benefits to people and the environment, from protection of the water quality and beauty that bring people to the lake, to the functioning of the lake as part of a healthy ecological landscape.
Mown grass has shallow roots and cannot withstand the erosive forces of waves and high water.
A naturally vegetated shore provides bank stability through a complex mix of root depths and patterns.
Removing shore trees and shrubs exposes the adjacent shallow water to more sun and to increased sediment and phosphorus runoff. The increased light, warmer water and additional nutrients result in increased algae and nuisance plant growth in the immediate nearshore area.
In addition, a lake without, or with little, buffering vegetation will experience an overall increase in phosphorus concentration, meaning more algae growth everywhere and less water clarity.
People generally agree that shoreland vegetation increases the beauty of a lake