Planner\'s guide to wetland buffers for local governments

Planner\'s guide to wetland buffers for local governments

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Planner\'s guide to wetland buffers for local governments
Kihslinger, Rebecca L.
McElfish, James M. Jr.
Nichols, Sandra S.
Environmental Law Institute
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Resource Management ( local )
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This guide for planners is based on detailed examination of approximately 50 enacted wetland buffer ordinances and nine model ordinances, and upon several hundred scientific studies and analyses of buffer performance. This guide identifies both the state-of-the-art and the range of current practice in the protection of wetland buffers by local governments. Local governments considering enacting or amending a wetland buffer ordinance will find here what they need to know to manage land use and development in these important areas. The upland area surrounding a wetland -- the wetland buffer -- is essential to its health and survival. Healthy wetlands and buffer areas help to control flooding, protect water flows, conserve native plants and wildlife, and support nature-friendly land use and development. Local governments are often better situated than state and federal environmental authorities to control activities on the lands that surround wetland resource areas, because they are not just concerned with wetland functions, but also with surrounding land uses and the benefits wetlands provide for their communities. Based on ELI's detailed examination of more than 50 enacted wetland buffer ordinances around the nation and nine model ordinances, as well as several hundred scientific studies and analyses of buffer performance, the Planner's Guide to Wetland Buffers for Local Governments identifies both the state-of-the-art and the range of current practice in protection of wetland buffers by local governments. The Guide provides to local governments considering enacting or amending a wetland buffer ordinance what they need to know to manage land use and development in these important areas.
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Full Text
This guide for planners is based on detailed examination
of approximately 50 enacted wetland buffer ordinances and nine
model ordinances, and upon several hundred scientific studies
and analyses of buffer performance. This guide identifies both
the state-of-the-art and the range of current practice in the
protection of wetland buffers by local governments. Local
governments considering enacting or amending a wetland buffer
ordinance will find here what they need to know to manage land
use and development in these important areas. The upland area
surrounding a wetland --
the wetland buffer --
is essential to its health and survival. Healthy wetlands
and buffer areas help to control flooding, protect water flows,
conserve native plants and wildlife, and support
nature-friendly land use and development. Local governments are
often better situated than state and federal environmental
authorities to control activities on the lands that surround
wetland resource areas, because they are not just concerned
with wetland functions, but also with surrounding land uses and
the benefits wetlands provide for their communities. Based on
ELI's detailed examination of more than 50 enacted wetland
buffer ordinances around the nation and nine model ordinances,
as well as several hundred scientific studies and analyses of
buffer performance, the Planner's Guide to Wetland Buffers for
Local Governments identifies both the state-of-the-art and the
range of current practice in protection of wetland buffers by
local governments. The Guide provides to local governments
considering enacting or amending a wetland buffer ordinance
what they need to know to manage land use and development in
these important areas.


ENVIRONMENTAL LAW INSTITUTE PlannerÂ’s Guide to Wetland Buffers for Local Governments


Planners Guide to Wetland Buffers for Local Governments March 2008 Environmental Law Institute


Planners Guide to Wetland Buffers for Local Governments Copyright 2008 Environmental Law Institute, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. ISBN 978-1-58576-137-1, ELI Project No. 0627-01. Cover photo by Amy Maxwell. An electronic retrievable copy (PDF le) of this report may be obtained for no cost from the Environmental Law Institute Website ; click on Publications, then search for this report. [Note: ELI Terms of Use will apply and are available on site.] (Environmental Law Institute, The Environmental Forum, and ELR The Environmental Law Reporter are registered trade marks of the Environmental Law Institute.) Acknowledgements This publication is a project of the Environmental Law Institute (ELI). Funding for this proj ect was provided in part by a Wetland Program Development Grant from the U.S. Environ mental Protection Agency (EPA) under grant number WD-83327901-0. However, it does not necessarily reect the views of the Agency and no ofcial endorsement should be inferred. This planners guide was written by James M. McElsh, Jr., Rebecca L. Kihslinger, and Sandra S. Nichols. The authors gratefully acknowledge valuable review and advice by Paul Adamus, David Burke, Karen Cappiella, Jeanne Christie, and Ted Weber, as well as EPA Wetlands Divi sion staff, including Palmer Hough, Stephanie Kavanaugh, and Myra Price. We also recognize the contribution of Lauren Weldon to identication of many of the ordinances consulted. The Environmental Law Institute is responsible for the views and information contained in this publication. About ELI Publications ELI publishes Research Reports that present the analysis and conclusions of the policy studies ELI undertakes to improve environmental law and policy. In addition, ELI publishes several journals and reportersincluding the Environmental Law Reporter The Environmental Forum, and the National Wetlands Newsletter and books, which contribute to education of the pro fession and disseminate diverse points of view and opinions to stimulate a robust and creative exchange of ideas. Those publications, which express opinions of the authors and not neces sarily those of the Institute, its Board of Directors, or funding organizations, exemplify ELIs commitment to dialogue with all sectors. ELI welcomes suggestions for article and book topics and encourages the submission of draft manuscripts and book proposals.


March 2008 1 A mericas local governments know their lands and are familiar with their critical role as the primary regulators of land use and develop ment activities. Many local governments also know their waters and wetlands, and most have authority to regulate land uses in order to conserve and protect these important community assets. While many publications assist local governing boards with land use planning and zoning, this publication compiles the sci entic literature on wetland buffers (the lands adjacent to wetland areas) and identies the techniques used and legislative choices made by local governments across the United States to protect these lands. This guide for planners is based on detailed ex amination of approximately 50 enacted wetland buffer ordinances and nine model ordinances, and upon sev eral hundred scientic studies and analyses of buffer performance. This guide identies both the state-ofthe-art and the range of current practice in the protec tion of wetland buffers by local governments. Local governments considering enacting or amending a wet land buffer ordinance will nd here what they need to know to manage land use and development in these important areas. Why Should Local Governments Adopt Wetland Buffer Controls? The term wetlands encompasses a variety of land scape features that contain or convey water and sup port unique plants and wildlife. Wetlands often serve as a transitional zone between dry lands and areas dominated by water, including ponds and rivers, oceans and estuaries, and their oodplains and tribu taries. Federal regulations dene wetlands as areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground wa ter at a frequency and duration sufcient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas. (40 C.F.R. .3(t)) An extensive body of scientic literature, classication systems (Cowardin et. al. 1979) and le gal opinions make important distinctions in wetland types and delineation methods. Wetlands form part of the natural system of land and water that helps to make human communities liv able. Many wetlands help control ooding and reduce damage from storm surges. They trap sediments and pollutants that otherwise might enter waterways. They help to recharge groundwater in some areas, and in tidal zones they provide nurseries for shellsh and sh. They also serve as habitat for birds, amphibians, and other wildlife and provide scarce natural areas in urban and suburban environments. Attention to these functions is essential to gov ernance of the communitys land uses, public health, safety, and welfare. But these functions cannot be sus tained without care for the uplands adjacent to wet landswetland buffers. Well-designed buffers protect and maintain wet land functions by removing sediments and associated pollutants from surface water runoff, removing, de taining, or detoxifying nutrients and contaminants from upland sources, inuencing the temperature and microclimate of a water body, and providing organic matter to the wetland. Buffers also maintain habitat for aquatic, semi-aquatic, and terrestrial wildlife, and can serve as corridors among local habitat patches, facili tating movement of wildlife through the landscape. Local government interests in wetland buf fer lands often include concern for management of stormwater, avoidance of hazards from ooding, pro tection of water supplies, and protection of property from future hazards that may be associated with global climate change. Protection of vegetated buffers may reduce the severity of water uctuations and ooding due to storms (FIFMTF 1996) as buffers may increase Planners Guide to Wetland Buffers for Local Governments Wetland buffers in urban areas are particularly important in helping to moderate the impacts of altered hydrologic regimes and ooding. City of Boulder, 2007


2 Planners guide to Wetland Buffers For Local Governments sures that deal only with the wetland is like trying to operate a municipal swimming pool without any at tention to the pipes, the deck, the lifeguard stations, and the condition of areas draining into the water. Such an approach is like operating a roadway with no shoulders, no sidewalks, no signals, no management of the right-of-way, and no provision for the water sheeting onto the road surface. The upland area surrounding the wetland is es sential to its survival and functionality. If a wetland area cannot absorb the stormwater it normally ab sorbs, the chances of ooding will increase further downstream; if the wetland cannot serve as home for wetland species and vegetation, community val ues and quality of life will be impaired. Local gov ernments that have wetlands within their boundar ies have the opportunity to conserve these resource lands and to control or compensate for activities and development that might impair their benets to the community and the environment. Elements of Wetland Buffer Ordinances Local governments should address the following elements when drafting a wetland buffer ordinance or bylaw: Purpose of the Ordinance Wetlands Covered Denition of Buffer Activities Prohibited/Permitted Procedures for Review the ood storage capacity of wetlands by better at tenuating storm runoff before it reaches the wetland (Wenger 1999). As many as 5,000 local governments have taken some actions to protect at least some wetlands within their borders (Kusler 2003). Some local governments regulate activities in wetlands, and all local govern ments have clear jurisdiction over actions on the buf fer lands that surround wetlands. In many important ways, local governments are better situated than state and federal environmental authorities to control ac tivities on the lands that surround wetland resource ar eas, because they are not just concerned with wetland functions, but also with surrounding land uses and the benets wetlands provide for their communities. Federal regulations require developers and oth ers to obtain permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge or ll many wetlands. But many activities that affect small acreages, or that involve par ticular kinds of construction or development activities, are authorized under generic general permits or na tionwide permits with minimal scrutiny and standard conditions. Further, some wetlands that are isolated or that lack sufcient connection to navigable waters and tributaries may be totally unregulated federally under recent Supreme Court decisions ( SWANCC v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2001) and Rapanos v. United States (2006)). And while about a third of the states have regulatory programs affecting one or more types of wetland, coverage varies substantially by wetland type, acreage, activity, and potential impact. Where federal and state regulatory programs do not apply, local governments remain the sole source of protective authority. And even where federal or state programs provide for review and permitting of activities in wetlands, local governments still have an interest in ensuring the compatibility of the land use that occurs on and around these lands in order to maintain control of their patterns of development, community character, tax base, demand for services, and response to hazards (McElsh 2004). The functions and services that wetlands provide may diminish if wetlands are surrounded by park ing lots, buildings, and pollution-generating or other incompatible land uses that reduce their hydrologic functions, alter vegetation, and degrade habitat val ues. Relying on regulations and conservation mea Wetland Buffers and Climate Change Wetland buffers will enable local communities to protect themselves from known hazards associated with global climate change. In some regions, climate change will pro duce more extreme storm events, increase the number and intensity of oods, and alter the inltration and conveyance capacity of stormwater and natural wetland systems. Sea level rise will threaten coastal communities, which depend upon the storm-buffering effects of coastal wetlands. Cli mate change will also change the volume and timing of snowmelt, alter groundwater supplies, and produce drought effects, making healthy wetland function even more critical for water supply and watershed resilience. An ordinance that protects wetland buffers will moderate the effects of drought and protect private and public property.


March 2008 3 as in those states that authorize local governments to adopt wetland regulations or critical area protections; or it may draw on a broader array of public health, safety, and welfare justications supported by the local governments police power. The ordinance may aim at a specic subset of issues within the local governments authority, such as prevention and control of ooding, prevention of water pollution, or protection of habitat, open space, recreation, and other issues. Where appli cable, the ordinance may draw on home rule author ity to supplement other legal authorizations. Purposes for wetland buffer ordinances include natural resource protection, hazard avoidance, and pub lic health and safety, among others. Commerce City, Colorado, species that its ordinance, which covers a number of resource concerns, is designed to protect signicant natural, historical, and agricultural resource features on the development site. (-43(b)(1)) Bay County, Floridas, ordinance declares that wetlands are a valuable natural resource worthy of protection, and that its ordinance establishing a setback distance from wetlands is intended: to provide a buffer between wetlands and de velopment, preserve water quality, limit sedi ment discharges, erosion, and uncontrolled stormwater discharges, and provide wildlife habitat. () Some ordinances specify concern for mitigation Afrmative Requirements Monitoring, Reporting, and Enforcement Within each of these elements, local governments have used many approaches to achieve wetland buf fer protection. Alternative approaches allow govern ments to address particular environmental concerns, property development issues, differing land uses, and practical and political constraints. Each element is discussed below, together with examples from local governments that have employed the alternatives. (All citations are to the relevant section numbers of the lo cal ordinances referenced.) Purpose of the Ordinance The ordinance should have an explicit statement of the purposes for which it is enacted. First, such a state ment makes the scope of the ordinance clear. It informs the elected decision makers choice about the type of regulatory approach that will accomplish the desired outcome, and it avoids both regulatory overreach and under reach (failure to include sufcient protection measures to achieve objectives). The purpose deni tion is particularly important in determining the size of a wetland buffer and dening the activities that will be prohibited, conditionally permitted, exempted, or authorized by right under the ordinance. It will de ne the extent to which the ordinance regulates the wetland area and the buffer, or whether it is primarily aimed at the buffer while leaving wetland regulation to federal or state oversight alone. Second, the statement of purpose aids in the in terpretation of the ordinance by those charged with carrying it out, such as zoning administrators and per mitting authorities, inspectors, and code enforcement ofcers. It also assists landowners, developers, and citi zens in understanding the ordinance and in conform ing their proposals and activities to its provisions. This is particularly useful where the ordinance includes pro visions that require application of performance stan dards, mitigation of authorized impacts on the buffer, and use of alternative design solutions. Third, the statement of purpose denes the legal authority upon which the ordinance rests and so helps courts and administrative bodies sustain both its le gality and its application to specic actions. The ordi nance may draw on explicit state authorizations, such Type of Ordinance Dening the purpose of the ordinance will help the local government and its legal advisors determine the type of ordinance that will be most useful. Most local wetland buf fer ordinances are part of the zoning code or land de velopment regulations. In some cases they are contained in a separate natural resources code, or they implement state-enacted wetlands or critical areas laws. A few are included in subdivision regulations together with setback and dimension requirements. Some wetland buffers are part of local erosion control or stormwater management regulations. The local government may include buffer pro tection as part of an ordinance that species protections for the wetland itself, or it may adopt an ordinance regulat ing the buffer area while relying on federal or state provi sions to address activities within the wetland.


4 Planners guide to Wetland Buffers For Local Governments of hazards and protection of property. The purpose of Schaumburg, Illinois wetlands, streams, and aquatic resources protection ordinance: shall be to protect persons and property within and adjacent to wetlands from potentially haz ardous geological and hydrological conditions; prevent environmental degradation of the land and water; and ensure that development en hances rather than detracts from or ignores the natural topography, resources, amenities, and fragile environment of wetlands within the vil lage. (.196) Belle Isle, Florida, nds that the preservation and protection of property rights of the people of the city require that mechanisms be established which will provide for the orderly regulation and preservation of environmentally signicant and productive wetlands. (-62(a)(3)) Very comprehensive statements of purposes are found in the LaPorte, Indiana, ordinance, to require planning to avoid or minimize damage to wetlands and lakes; to require that activities not dependent upon a wetland or shoreline be located at other sites;to make certain that activities affecting wetlands and lakes must not threaten public safety or cause nuisances by: block ing ood ows, destroying ood storage areas, or de stroying storm barriers, thereby raising ood heights or velocities on other land and increasing ood damages; causing water pollution through any means [including application of pesticides, increasing erosion, or increas ing runoff of sediment and surface water]; and that activities in or affecting wetlands do not destroy natu ral wetland functions important to the general welfare [listing habitat, groundwater recharge, education and research, public rights in waters and recreation, and aesthetic and property values.] (-563 to -565) A model ordinance prepared by the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency provides a sig nicant list of purposes that can be used by local gov ernments considering their own ordinances: Establish consistent, technically feasible and operationally practical standards to achieve a level of storm water quantity and quality control that will minimize damage to public and private property and degradation of wa ter resources, and will promote and maintain the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of the Community. Preserve to the maximum extent practicable the natural drainage charac teristics of the community and building sites and minimize the need to construct, repair, and replace enclosed storm drain systems. Preserve to the maximum extent practicable natural inltration and ground water recharge, and maintain subsurface ow that replenishes water resources, wetlands, and wells. Prevent unnecessary stripping of vegetation and loss of soil, especially adjacent to water resources and wetlands. Reduce the need for costly main tenance and repairs to roads, embankments, sewage systems, ditches, water resources, wet lands, and storm water management practices that are the result of inadequate storm water control due to the loss of riparian areas and wetlands. Reduce the long-term expense of remedial projects needed to address problems caused by inadequate storm water control. The specic purpose and intent of this part of these regulations is to regulate uses and devel opments within wetland setbacks that would impair the ability of wetland areas to: Reduce ood impacts by absorbing peak ows, slow ing the velocity of oodwaters, and regulat ing base ow. Assist in stabilizing the banks of watercourses to reduce bank erosion and the downstream transport of sediments eroded from watercourse banks. Reduce pollutants in watercourses during periods of high ows by ltering, settling, and transforming pollutants already present in watercourses. Reduce pol lutants in watercourses by ltering, settling, transforming and absorbing pollutants in run off before they enter watercourses. Provide wa tercourse habitats with shade and food. Provide habitat to a wide array of aquatic organisms, wildlife, many of which are on Ohios Endan gered and/or Threatened Species listings, by maintaining diverse and connected riparian and wetland vegetation. Benet the Commu nity economically by minimizing encroach


March 2008 5 ment on wetlands and watercourse channels and the need for costly engineering solutions such as dams, retention basins, and rip rap to protect structures and reduce property damage and threats to the safety of residents; and by contributing to the scenic beauty and environ ment of the Community, and thereby preserv ing the character of the Community, the qual ity of life of the residents of the Community, and corresponding property values Nashua, New Hampshires, purpose statement is: in the interest of public health, safety and gen eral welfare, to: Insure the protection of valu able wetland resources; prevent the harmful lling, draining, sedimentation, or alteration of wetlands; Prevent the destruction or signi cant degradation of wetlands which provide ood and storm control by the hydrologic ab sorption and storage capacity of the wetland; Protect sh and wildlife habitats by providing breeding, nesting, and feeding grounds for many forms of plant and animal life including rare, threatened, or endangered species; Protect subsurface water resources and provide for the recharging of ground water supplies; Provide pollution treatment to maintain water qual ity; Prevent expenditures of municipal funds for the purpose of providing and/maintaining essential services and utilities which might be required as a result of misuse or abuse of wet lands; Provide for those compatible land uses in and adjacent to wetland or surface waters which serve to enhance, preserve, and protect wetland areas as natural resources. (-571) Wetlands Covered Local governments must determine which wetlands and waters to include within their buffer ordinances. Ordinances tend to exhibit four approaches to den ing the wetlands to which local buffer requirements will be applied: (1) The ordinance may cover all wetlands and waters as broadly dened in the ordinance, or it may reference the denitions of waters of the state or de nitions of wetlands found in state laws or federal regu lations. For example, the buffer ordinance may specify wetlands, as in Chipley, Florida (14.5-21), or wet lands as dened by state law, as in Woodbury, Min nesota (27-1). (2) The ordinance may dene specic wetland types or classes of wetlands that are protected under the ordinance. This approach may provide certain pro tections for tidal wetlands and different protections for nontidal wetlands. It may provide for protection of wetlands over a particular size (such as wetlands over one-half acre in area, as in Charlotte County, Florida, or wetlands over one-quarter acre in area, as in Lake County, Illinois). The ordinance may determine that buffer protections should be afforded to all wetlands over which federal jurisdiction exists under the Clean Water Act or under state wetlands laws, or it may spe cically extend coverage to wetlands that do not receive protection under state and federal regulations. For ex ample, Summit County, Colorado, protects wetlands as dened in the County ordinance, notwithstanding any contrary determination by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.(7105.1(A)) Some towns in New York of fer protections for wetlands under 12.4 acres, the lower limit of the states wetland program jurisdiction. Some of the ordinances we reviewed (although less than a quarter) provide different buffer protections for differ ent classes of wetlands, using either state or local wetland quality or vulnerability ranking schemes. For example, Nashua, New Hampshire, prescribes a 75-foot nondis turbance buffer for primary wetlands as dened un der state law, 40 feet for critical wetlands, and 20 feet for other wetlands over one acre. (16-575). (3) The ordinance may be primarily aimed at the protection of stream and river corridors and ood ways (riparian corridors), but provide for the inclusion and protection of wetlands where they are found within or adjacent to these areas. Most such ordinances pro vide for the expansion of the riparian buffer distance to a greater extent than would be required were such wetlands not present. For example, Summit County, Ohios, riparian buffer ordinance provides that when ever wetlands protected under federal or state law are identied within the riparian setback (which is itself 30-300 feet depending on the size of the drainage


6 Planners guide to Wetland Buffers For Local Governments area), the riparian setback shall consist of the full ex tent of the wetlands plus the following additional set back widths from the outer boundary of the wetland feet, 30 feet, or zero additional feet, depending upon the type of wetland. (.05(e3)) (4) Some local government wetland ordinances protect specically identied, mapped wetlands within the jurisdiction, rather than relying on deni tions. Schaumburg, Illinois, wetlands, streams, and aquatic resources overlay district applies to areas des ignated on the towns zoning map. (154.196) Pick ens County, Georgias, ordinance applies to develop ments within 50 feet of a dened wetlands protection district boundary, as dened by the Countys Health Department. This district specically includes all land mapped as wetlands by the federal governments Na tional Wetlands Inventory Maps. (12-26-124, 1226-125) Oregon City, Oregon, applies wetland buffer protection to Title 3 wetlands, dened as those wet lands of metropolitan concern as shown on the water quality and ood management area map and other wetlands added to city or county-adopted water qual ity and ood management area maps. (17.49.040) Lewiston, Maine, applies its 250-foot regulatory re view buffer (and 75 foot minimum setback) to ten (10) acre or greater wetlands, located in the City of Lewiston, as shown on a specically-referenced set of Maine Department of Environmental Protection maps dated 1989, and identied by specic identi cation numbers on those maps. (34.2(B)(2)) Strom men et al. (2007) advise using an adopted local wet land map. Denition of Buffer Local governments use numerous approaches when dening wetland buffers. Ordinances may dene a regulated area where scrutiny will be exercised over activities near wetlands, or dene a non-disturbance area where natural vegetation must be maintained. Sometimes these are the sameso that there will be no disturbance, with limited exceptions by permit, throughout the entire dened regulatory buffer. In other instances, the ordinance will dene a larger area of regulatory scrutiny, with limited uses by permit, and then dene a smaller non-disturbance area nearest the wetland margins. Some ordinances prescribe a non-dis turbance buffer area, but then establish an additional setback distance for buildings from the outer edge of the buffer. Because of these variations, simply com paring the number of feet prescribed in various buffer ordinances is not informative by itself. What matters Stream buffer expanded to include riparian wetland. Overlapping buffers linking adjacent wetlands After Cappiella et al. 2005


March 2008 7 is how the buffer ordinance denes what activities are allowed and not allowed in the dened areas. The Science of Buffers for Wetlands In adopting a buffer and dening its dimensions, the local government must rely on good science, both to achieve effective results and to meet any legal chal lenges. A large scientic literature examines effective buffer sizes for water quality and wildlife habitat. In general, wide and densely vegetated buffers are better than narrow and sparsely vegetated buffers. However, the buffer size necessary to provide a particular level of function depends on the functions of the wetland, the wetlands relative sensitivity (as inuenced by water retention time and other factors), the characteristics of the buffer, the intensity of adjacent land use, and wa tershed characteristics. A multi-function buffer should be sized to meet all of the functions identied as being locally important. Water Quality & Buffers Wetland buffers protect the water quality of wetlands by preventing the buffer area itself from serving as a source of pollution, as well as by processing pollutants that ow from upland areas. Water quality benets vary not just with the size of the buffer, but also with the ow pattern, vegetation type, percent slope, soil type, surrounding land use, pollutant type and dose, and precipitation patterns (Adamus 2007, Wenger 1999, Sheldon et al. 2005). Both the type and intensi ty of surrounding land uses are key factors determining the effectiveness of wetland buffers in protecting water quality. Variations in water quality have been corre lated over extended distances with quantity of intense urban land use in the contributing area, forest cover, and proximity of road crossings (Houlahan and Find lay 2004, Wilson and Dorcas 2003). Intense urbaniza tion, agriculture, and concentrated timber harvests can increase the amount of sediments and contaminants in surface runoff, cause changes in hydrology, and increase the severity of water uctuations in a wetland during storm events. Vegetation and deep permeable soils in the buffer slow down surface ow, allow for inltration before runoff reaches valuable wetlands, and inhibit the formation of channelized ow, improving removal of sediments and nutrients. Buffers that include both forested and grassy vegetation may be most effective at removing both sediments and nutrients, especially in agricultural areas Buffer effectiveness, however, can be reduced over the long term by activities that destroy vegetation or compact or erode soils, causing rills and gullies. Effectiveness in the short term may diminish if sediment and nutrients are added too quickly or in chronically high concentrations. Depending on site conditions, much of the sedi ment and nutrient removal may occur within the rst 15-30 feet of the buffer, but buffers of 30-100 feet or more will remove pollutants more consistently. Buffer distances should be greater in areas of steep slope and high intensity land use. Larger buffers will be more ef fective over the long run because buffers can become saturated with sediments and nutrients, gradually reducing their effectiveness, and because it is much harder to maintain the long term integrity of small buf fers. In an assessment of 21 established buffers in two Washington counties, Cooke (1992) found that 76% of the buffers were negatively altered over time. Buf fers of less than 50 feet were more susceptible to deg radation by human disturbance. In fact, no buffers of 25 feet or less were functioning to reduce disturbance to the adjacent wetland. The buffers greater than 50 feet showed fewer signs of human disturbance. Cooke concluded that the effectiveness of buffers to protect adjacent wetlands is increased when fewer lots are pres ent, buffers are larger and vegetated, and buffers are owned by landowners who understand the purpose of the buffer. Tougher monitoring and enforcement of buffer requirements should also help. Wildlife Habitat & Buffers Wetland buffers maintain or serve directly as habitat for aquatic and wetland-dependent species that rely on complementary upland habitat for critical stages of their life-history (Chase et al. 1997). Buffers also screen adjacent human disturbance and serve as habi tat corridors through the landscape. The appropriate buffer size for habitat functions will depend on the resident species, the life-history characteristics of the species, the condition of the wetland and the wetland buffer, the intensity of the surrounding land use, and the function the buffer is to provide. Adamus (2007) suggests that the buffer size determination consider continued on page 10


8 Planners guide to Wetland Buffers For Local Governments Science of Water Quality Buffers A considerable amount of research addresses the size of buffers needed to remove sediments, phosphorous, nitrogen, and other pollutants. Sediments Buffers remove sediments and attached nutrients, toxics, and pesticides by reducing the velocity of surface ow, allowing the suspended solids to settle out on the surface and/or lter through the soil. A signicant percent of the sediment in surface ows may be removed in a 15-30 foot buffer, but sediments may be more consistently removed by buffers of 30-100 feet (Dillaha et al. 1988, 1989, Magette et al. 1989, Schoonover et al. 2006). Progressively larger buffers may be required to lter out incre mentally greater amounts of sediments (Wong and McCuen 1982, as cited in Wenger 1999, EOR 2001). From their review of the literature, Sheldon et al. (2005) suggest that coarse sediments are likely removed efciently in the rst 16-66 feet of a buffer, and removal of ner particles may require buffers of at least 66 feet. Locations with high sediment loads and steep slope may also require wider buffers, as sediment removal efciency decreases as slope increases (Wenger 1999, Sheldon et al. 2005). Wider buffers also may be necessary to maintain sediment removal efciencies over time as buffers become saturated with sediments (Wenger 1999). The ability of a buffer to remove sediment is highly dependent on sediment-laden water entering the buffer surface via sheet ow rather than via highly focused ows (Wigington et al. 2003, and references in Sheldon et al. 2005). Water conned mainly in ditches, incised channels, subsurface pipes, and other types of highly focused ows does not allow much contact with buffer vegetation and often is not sufciently slowed to allow sediment removal, reducing the pollutionltering capability of the buffer. Riparian vegetation, litter, and woody debris on the surface can reduce the velocity of surface ow, allowing more contact with vegetation and soils and inhibiting the formation of incised channels and gullies (Lowrance and Sheridan 2005, Sheldon et al. 2005). In addition, buffers with low gradient slope are more effective for the same reasons. The use of level spreaders, grass lter strips, or other structural techniques also can encourage sheet ow through buffers (Wenger 1999). If stormwater pipes cross a buffer entirely underground before emptying into a wetland, the runoff purication purpose of the buffer will obviously be defeated. Phosphorous Much of the phosphorous entering a buffer is attached to sediments, which can be removed as suspended solids are ltered by the buffer (Wenger 1999). Much of the phosphorous may be removed within the rst 15-30 feet of the buffer, but phosphorous may be more consistently removed by buffers of 30-100 feet (Dillaha et al. 1988, 1989, EOR 2001, Kuusemets and Mander 1999, Lowrance and Sheridan 2005, Syverson 2005). Buffers can become saturated with phosphorous and generally cannot provide long term storage of phosphorous, but they can help to regulate the ow of phosphorous and prevent large pulses of the nutrient from reaching the wetland (Wenger 1999). Vegetation management (haying, grazing) may help to permanently remove some phosphorus from the system (Wenger 1999). Nitrogen Subsurface ow is the dominant water ow route through many buffers and wetlands. Nitrogen is removed primarily through conversion of nitrate to nitrogen gas by denitrifying bacteria and by vegetative uptake. This occurs primarily in the upper few feet of a buffers soil or a wetlands sediment. Removal efciencies are generally high (see Table 1 in Mayer et al. 2005). However, nitrogen removed via vegetative uptake can be released back to the system as plants die and decompose. Nitrogen also enters a buffer as particulate nitrogen attached to sediments, which can be removed as suspended solids are ltered by the buffer. Mayer and colleagues (2005) recently completed a comprehensive review and synthesis of the literature pertaining to the nitrogen removal function of riparian buffers. From their interpretation of that literature, they suggested that narrow buffers, 3.3 49.2 feet, can be effective at removing nitrogen, but wider buffers, >164 feet, more consistently remove signicant amounts of nitrogen. They suggest 50%, 75%, and 90% nitrogen removal efciencies (through both surface and subsurface ow) would occur in buffers of approximately 10 feet, 92 feet, and 367 feet wide, respectively, depending on buffer characteristics and nitrate loading rates. Based on a review of some of the same literature, Wenger (1999) suggested that a minimum of 50 feet is necessary for effective nitrogen removal, and depending on the soils (wet organic soils being the best), 100 feet or more would include more areas of denitrication activity and provide more nitrogen removal. Buffers of various vegetation types may be temporarily effective in retaining nitrogen being carried in the subsurface ow. High levels of organic carbon in the soil, satu rated soil, anoxic or low oxygen conditions, and extended contact of the groundwater with the root zone of riparian vegetation are necessary for effective microbial denitrication and plant uptake of nitrogen. Removal of subsurface nitrate is highest when these soil conditions are maintained (Correll 1997, Wenger 1999), and these criteria may be more important than width in determining the effectiveness of the buffer (Mayer et al. 2005). For example, Vidon and Hill (2004) found that a 50 foot buffer was effective at removing 90% of the nitrate at locations with loamy soils, but at locations with sand and cobble sediments (soils with less organic matter), the buffer width required for 90% nitrate removal ranged from 82 ft to 577 feet. In order to maintain the nitrogen removal effectiveness of buffers, soil compaction, gullying, increases in impervious surfaces in the buffer, and exces


March 2008 9 sive removal of leaf litter or ground cover should be minimized (Mayer et al. 2005). Other Pollution A few studies have shed some light on effective buffer widths for removing fecal coliform and other pathogenic microorganisms. In one study, a 30 foot buffer that had been treated with poultry manure was able to remove 34-74 % of the fecal coliform. However, the resulting runoff still exceed the primary contact standard (Coyne et al. 1995). Toxics (pesticides and metals) may also be partially removed through ltration of sediments by the buffer (Sheldon et al. 2005), and temporarily, through vegetative uptake (Gallagher and Kibby 1980). Urban buffers are thought to be generally good at removing hydrocarbons and metals from surface runoff (Herson-Jones et al. 1995, as cited in Wenger 1999). Limitations There are many limitations to the conclusions about buffer widths that can be drawn from the scientic literature on buffers. More studies focus on buffers to protect stream and river functions than on wetlands. Also, many buffer studies are not conducted yearround, although water quality effects vary across seasons. Further, much of the science examining the effectiveness of buffers to remove pollutants describes the percentage of pollutant reduced by the buffer, but more rarely whether the buffer enabled the receiving water body to meet water quality standards. Finally, most studies tend to evaluate effects of specic buffer sizes rather than to derive buffer distances from conditions. Nevertheless, the scientic literature, if interpreted cautiously by experts in bio geochemistry and wildlife, can help municipalities determine the dimensions and characteristics of an effective wetland buffer (Sheldon et al. 2005). Science of Wetland Habitat Buffers Many of the buffer studies in the scientic literature make conclusions on appropriate buffer sizes for wildlife habitat based on how far individuals range from the wetland or water body for breeding or other life-cycle needs. The Environmental Law Institutes (2003) review of the science found that effective buffer sizes for wildlife protection may range from 33 to more than 5000 feet, depending on the species. Specic information on ranges for birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians has been developed: Birds : from 49 to over 5000 feet (ELI 2003, Fischer 2000). Mammals : between 98 and 600 feet (ELI 2003). Reptiles & Amphibians : In a review of the literature, Semlitsch and Bodie (2003) found that core terrestrial habitat for reptiles associated with wetlands ranged between 417 and 948 feet, and for amphibians 521and 951 feet. They suggest preserving core habitat plus an additional 164 foot (50 meter) buffer to minimize edge effects. However, little guidance is given concerning what type and density of buffer vegetation is acceptable for protecting particular species. The type and intensity of surrounding land uses will affect the wildlife habitat function of a buffer. For example, studies have shown that amphibian species richness declines with increasing urban land use and road density (Rubbo and Kiesecker 2005, Houlahan and Findlay 2003). Marsh bird community integrity has been shown to decline signicantly when the amount of urban/suburban development within 500 m and 1000 m of the marsh exceeds 14% and 25%, respectively (DeLuca et al. 2004). Well designed buffers must be employed in combination with comprehensive land use planning that maintains a land scape containing relatively large, intact habitat areas in order to further habitat conservation goals. Buffers can screen light, noise, domestic pets, and human presence from wetland wildlife (Castelle et al. 1992). The level of human disturbance in a buffer will likely depend on the intensity of adjacent land uses (Cooke 1992), thus buffer sizes should be increased with increasing intensity of land use. Buffers of at least 50 feet are likely necessary to maintain buffer effective ness over time (Cooke 1992). In general, forested buffers will be best around forested and scrub-shrub wetlands for forest species, but grassy and herba ceous vegetation may be most effective in other locations and for other species (Adamus 2007). Buffers with greater structural complexity will usually support more species (Shirley 2004), although buffers with less complexity can be more favorable to particular species that may be locally rare. Native vegetation is more likely to be effective at conserving native wildlife (Wenger 1999). Parkyn et al. (2000, as cited in Parkyn 2004) suggest that a buffer of 33 feet is necessary for sustaining native vegetation in some wetlands.


10 Planners guide to Wetland Buffers For Local Governments distance for all wetlands subject to the ordinance ( e.g ., 75 feet or 100 feet). Others vary the prescribed dis tance depending upon the type of wetland or the qual ity of wetland from which the buffer is extended ( e.g ., 75 feet from least vulnerable wetland type; 100 feet from most vulnerable). Others further vary the buffer distance to account for slope toward the wetlandre quiring wider buffers where slopes are steeper because negative impacts from land-disturbing activities, in cluding concentrated water ows, are likely to increase with increasing slope. Some ordinances vary the buf fer distances based on the type or intensity of land userequiring larger buffers for more intensive land uses potentially affecting the wetland area. In contrast, some ordinances require or allow the zoning admin istrator to establish or vary buffers on a case-by-case basis. These ordinances usually prescribe the factors that must be taken into account and the information to be supplied by an applicant, but then rely on per formance standards in the ordinance to drive the buf fer distance decision. In another approach, Strommen et al. (2007) suggest an ordinance that regulates the entire drainage area contributing surface or subsurface all of the buffer functions relevant to habitat includ ing removing pollutants, limiting disturbance by hu mans, limiting the spread of non-native species into wetlands, helping maintain microclimatic conditions, and providing habitat for native wetland-dependent species that require both wetland and upland habitats. The Environmental Law Institutes (2003) review of the science found that effective buffer sizes for wild life protection may range from 33 to more than 5000 feet, depending on the species. The State Wildlife Ac tion Plans ( m ), developed by sh and wildlife agencies in all fty states, are good sources of relevant information on native species, species of conservation concern, and their habitat requirements. These data can be supplemented by consulting local biologists to tailor buffer sizes to specic habitat types, species, and landscapes. Approaches to Setting Buffer Distances There are a number of alternative approaches to set ting the buffer distanceusually dened in feet mea sured horizontally from the edge of the dened wet land. Many ordinances simply prescribe a xed buffer Effective buffer distance for water quality and wildlife protection functions. The thin arrow represents the range of potentially effective buffer distances for each function as suggested in the science literature. The thick bar represents the buffer distances that may most effectively accomplish each function (30 > 100 feet for sediment and phosphorous removal; 100 > 160 feet for nitrogen removal; and 100 >300 feet for wildife protection. Depending on the species and the habitat characteristics, effective buffer distances for wildlife protection may be either small or large. Buffer Distance by Function Buffer Distance (ft) Buffer Functions 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180 200 220 240 260 280 300 1000 Sediments Nitrogen Phosphorous Wildlife continued from page 7


March 2008 11 ow to sensitive wetlands, with dened buffer protec tions within this area. Enacted local government buffer ordinances show a wide range of wetland buffer dimensions. The lowest we found was 15 feet measured horizontally from the border of the wetland, with the highest approximately 350 feet. Several ordinances set 500 feet as a distance for greater regulatory review of proposed activities, but do not require nondisturbance at this distance. Often the ordinances provide a range of protections, with nondisturbance requirements nearest the wetland and various prohibitions and limitations as the distance from the wetland increases. Among the ordinances we examined, the largest number of ordinances clustered around nondisturbance or minimal disturbance buffers of 50 feet or 100 feet, with variations (usually upward variations) beyond these based on particular wetland characteristics, species of concern, and to account for areas with steeper slopes. The largest ordinance-pre scribed buffer distances (350 feet or more) tended to be for tidal wetlands and vernal pool wetlands. Local governments, in general, use ve approach es in dening buffer distances. (1) Fixed Nondisturbance Buffer. Some local ordinances provide for a xed buffer distance with in which disturbance activities are prohibited (or strictly limited). For example, Casselberry, Florida, requires wetland buffers of 50 feet. (3-11) Virginia cities and counties subject to the states Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act establish resource protection areas of a 100-foot vegetated buffer landward of tidal and certain nontidal wetlands, as in Petersburg, Virginia (122-76) and Henrico County, Virginia (24-106.3). Some local buffer ordinances are set back ordinances. For example, Bay County, Florida, prohibits construction of any building or structure within 30 feet of any wetland. (1909) The North eastern Ohio Model Ordinance provides for a 120foot or 75-foot setback from Ohio EPA Category 3 and 2 wetlands, respectively. Summit County, Col orado, and LaPorte, Indiana, each provide that soil disturbances and structures are prohibited within 25 feet of a wetland. (7105.1(A); 82-561) (2) Nondisturbance Buffer plus Additional Set back. Some ordinances prescribe a xed nondistur bance wetland buffer, and then prescribe an addi tional setback distance for structures from the edge of the wetland buffer. The idea is that the prescribed nondisturbance buffer protects the wetland, and that buildings should not be constructed on the buffers edge if a functional buffer is to be maintained. Bal timore County, Maryland, provides for a nondistur bance buffer of 25 feet from nontidal wetlands in accordance with the state nontidal wetlands law (75100 foot buffers apply if associated with a stream, and 100-300 feet if a tidal wetland), but then further provides that residential buildings must be set back an additional 35 feet and commercial buildings an additional 25 feet from the edge of the buffer (33-2303, 33-2-401, 33-2-204(c), 33-3-111(d)) Charles ton, South Carolina, denes critical line wetland buffers of a minimum of 25 to 40 feet based on zon ing districts, but then further provides that all build ings must be set back a minimum of ten feet from the edge of the required buffer. (54-347.1a3) (3) Regulated Buffer Area with Minimum Non disturbance Area. Another approach denes the buffer in terms of the area within which regulatory scrutiny will be applied to limit uses by permit or other review. Monroe County, New York, regulates a 100-foot adjacent area to freshwater wetlands. (377-1 et seq .) Permits are required for activities within this area. Many jurisdictions supplement this regulated area with a prescribed minimum nondis turbance zone immediately adjacent to the wetland. Polk County, Wisconsin, provides for regulation of shorelands within 1000 feet of the ordinary high wa ter mark of any navigable lake or pond or owage, and within 300 feet of any navigable river or stream or oodplain including wetlands. It then provides within these fairly substantial regulated areas for a 75-foot minimum setback with a 35-foot vegetated protective area immediately adjacent to the wetlands or waters. (Art.7, 11(C)) New Lenox, Illinois, pro vides for the regulation of all lots lying wholly or in part within 100 feet of the edge of a wetland, while requiring a minimum nondisturbance set-back of 75 feet from the edge of the wetland (with only very minimal activities allowed by permit) and a minimum natural vegetation strip of 25 feet from the edge of the wetland. (38-131 to -133) Lewiston, Maine,


12 Planners guide to Wetland Buffers For Local Governments regulates all areas within 250 feet of the upland edge of all ten-acre or larger wetlands, and requires that all structures must be set back at least 75 feet from the wetland edge with no variances, and that a natu ral vegetative state must be maintained for the rst 50 feet. (34.2) Croton-on-Hudson, New York, does this in reverse by rst specifying a mandatory non disturbance area of 20 feet adjacent to the wetland, and then the regulatory minimum activity setback extending an additional 100 feet from the edge of the nondisturbance buffer. (227-3). Massachusetts state wetlands protection act, which is locally administered by municipal conserva tion commissions, provides for a 100-foot regulated buffer area, and a permit process that applies to both the buffer and the wetland. (110 Mass. Gen. L. 131 40) Many municipalities have adopted variations on this regulatory approach. Barnstable, Massachusetts, using home rule authority as well as the state wet lands law, has added a provision that requires an un disturbed area of 50 feet adjacent to the wetland, and further provides that any structures permitted within the 100 foot regulated buffer must be located within the 20 feet of the landward margin of the buffer (viz. 80 feet from the wetland). (704-1) Sturbridge, Mas sachusetts, species various regulatory buffer areas greater than the state-required 100 feet (e.g. 200 feet for freshwater wetlands), and prescribes minimum nondisturbance areas ranging from 25 feet to 200 feet, depending upon the wetland resource. (.4) (4) Matrix Based on Listed Factors. Some or dinances include a matrix of wetland types, slopes, habitats, and land use intensities, which are then used to dene the extent of the buffer. For example, Sammamish, Washington, prescribes a set of buffers based on four distinct categories of wetlands initially dened by their wetland functions, and further modi ed by the habitat scores for each of these wetlands (see Table below). Under the ordinance, Sammamishs development department may further increase the required buffer distance by the greater of 50 feet or a distance neces sary to protect the functions and values of the wetland as well as to provide connectivity whenever a Category I or II wetland with a habitat score of 20 or greater is located within 300 feet of another Category I or II wetland, a sh and wildlife conservation area, or a stream supporting anadromous sh. Required buffers may be reduced if the impacts are mitigated and re sult in equal or better protection of wetland functions. (A.50.290) Since 1984, Island County, Washington, has had an ordinance that takes into account wetland type, wet land size, and land use zones. The County has recently revised the ordinance for new development proposals Wetland Category Standard Buffer Width (ft) Category I: Natural Heritage or bog wetlands 215 Habitat score 29-36 200 Habitat score 20-28 150 Not meeting above criteria 125 Category II: Habitat score 29-36 150 Habitat score 20-28 100 Not meeting above criteria 75 Category III: Habitat score 20-28 75 Not meeting above criteria 50 Category IV: 50 Sammamish, Washington, ordinance: Wetlands rated according to the Washington State Wetland Rating System for Western Washington (Washington Department of Ecology, 2004, or as revised).


March 2008 13 to base buffer distance which can range from 15 to 300 feet in width, primarily on intensity of surround ing land uses, habitat structure within and around a wetland (as scored with a simple checklist that land owners may use), and wetland sensitivity. The ordi nance considers depressional isolated wetlands that lack outlets to be more sensitive to degradation due to accumulating sediment and bioaccumulation of con taminants and requires these wetlands to have wider buffers. Some wetlands surrounded by steep slopes or highly erodible soils are also required to have wider buffers. Island County also requires wider buffers for several carefully-dened wetland types, due to their high ecological value or sensitivity: (A) bogs, coastal lagoon wetlands, delta estuary wetlands, mature forest ed wetlands, (B) large non-estuarine ponded wetlands, anadromous sh stream wetlands, wetlands associated with a bog, coastal lagoon or delta estuary, (C) other estuarine wetlands, resident salmonid stream wetlands, mosaic wetlands, and (D) native plant wetlands and small ponded wetlands. The County prepared a series of tables that show buffer widths required for various combinations of these factors (e.g., intensity of sur rounding land use, wetland structure, and slope). (.02B.090). See Appendix II. Another example is Bensalem, Pennsylvania, which prescribes varying wetland buffer distances within natural resource protection overlay districts based on the underlying land use zoning. The buffer distance ranges from 20 feet in agricultural zones, to 100 feet in general industrial zones. ( 232-57) The ordinances standards require the buffer to be main tained in 80 percent natural vegetative cover. (5) Case by Case Buffer Determinations. A num ber of wetland buffer ordinances do not specify a nu merical distance, but require the applicant to submit information sufcient to allow the local government to specify the buffer distance based on performance standards. For example, Commerce City, Colorado, requires that the buffer must be sized to ensure that the natural area is preserved and expressly provides that the director of community development may in crease or decrease the buffer to meet the goals of the ordinance; however, it further provides that the buf fer for wetlands will in no case be less than 25 feet. Woodbury, Minnesota, provides for a minimum na tive vegetated buffer of 15 feet, but further provides that the city reserves the right to require up to a 75foot undisturbed buffer where in the opinion of the city the area contains signicant natural vegetation in good condition, or up to a 25-foot buffer where useful for water quality improvement, wildlife habi tat, a greenway connection, or any other wetland func tion or value.(-4(b)) Alachua County, Florida, provides for a case-bycase performance standard buffer, but also provides for a numerical default value when sufcient information is not available to support a case-by-case determina tion. The buffer: shall be determined on a case-by-case basis af ter site inspection by the county, depending upon what is demonstrated to be scientically necessary to protect natural ecosystems from signicant adverse impact. (.43) The county requires the following factors to be considered in making the case-by-case determination: 1) Type of activity and associated potential for adverse site-specic impacts; 2) Type of activity and associated potential for adverse offsite or downstream impacts; 3) Surface water or wetland type and associated hydrologi cal requirements; 4) Buffer area characteristics, such as vegetation, soils, and topography; 5) Required buffer area function ( e.g., water quality protection, wildlife habitat requirements, ood control); 6) Presence or absence of listed species of plants and animals; and 7) Natural community type and associated management requirements of the buffer. (.43) Where sufcient scientic information is not available, the ordinance prescribes default values with an average buffer dis tance of 50 feet, and minimum of 35 feet for wetlands less than or equal to a half acre; 75/50 feet for wetlands greater than half acre; 150/75 feet where listed species are documented; and 150/100 feet where the wetland is an outstanding resource water. (.43(c)) Crestview, Floridas, ordinance provides: The size of the buffer shall be the minimum necessary to prevent signicant adverse effects on the protected environmentally sensitive area. -202(e)(1).


14 Planners guide to Wetland Buffers For Local Governments Fife, Washingtons, ordinance species buffer dis tances, but further provides that: The community development director shall re quire increased standard buffer zone widths on a case by case basis when a larger buffer is nec essary to protect wetlands functions and values based on local conditions. This determination shall be supported by appropriate documen tation showing that it is reasonably related to protection of the functions and values of the regulated wetland. Such determination shall be attached as a permit condition and shall dem onstrate that: A. A larger buffer is necessary to maintain viable populations of existing species; or B. The wetland is used by species proposed or listed by the federal government or the state as endangered, threatened, rare, sensitive or monitor, critical or outstanding potential hab itat for those species or has unusual nesting or resting sites such as heron rookeries or raptor nesting trees; or C. The adjacent land is sus ceptible to severe erosion and erosion control measures will not effectively prevent adverse wetland impacts; or D. The adjacent land has minimal vegetative cover or slopes greater than 15 percent. (.17.260) This approach requires more information at the application stage and also requires the administrator to have sufcient technical capacity to make a legally sufcient and sustainable choice. Transitional Provisions Some buffer ordinances have imposed more stringent requirements on new development than on existing development or subdivisions previously recorded. This may, in some cases, recognize vested rights in devel opment conditions, but more often it represents a way of avoiding potential legal contests over the applicabil ity of newer environmental regulations while still as serting some controls over prior and pending develop ments. Casselberry, Florida, for example, requires a 50 foot buffer; but provides that buffers shall be 25 feet on lots less than ve acres created prior to February 17, 1992.(-11.1(C)) Summit County, Colorado, exempts single family and duplex residential construc tion (but not other construction) on lots platted before the 1996 adoption of the countys rst wetland regula tions. (.1(A)) Activities Prohibited/Permitted Many ordinances simply prohibit all disturbance, ex cavation, or building within the buffer, and then pro vide a separate list of activities that may be authorized by permit, or that are exempt from the ordinance. Massachusetts local ordinances typically provide that except as permitted by the local conservation commis sion or as provided in the local ordinance, no person shall commence to remove, ll, dredge, build upon, degrade, discharge into, or otherwise alter the pro tected wetland and buffer area. Many wetland buffer ordinances also include out right prohibitions of particular activities, such as solid waste facilities, dams, and septic systems. LaPorte, In diana, provides that no building, structure, street, al ley, driveway, or parking area shall be placed within a wetland district; and further prohibits placement of any development that will allow surface water run off to be directed or ow into a wetland district, except by permit allowing such ow, and excepting a single-family dwelling that may result in such ow. (-606) Many ordinances prohibit the use of wetland buf fers for stormwater retention ponds, requiring that Buffer Averaging and Minimum Distances Some buffer ordinances that set specic and minimum buf fer dimensions allow the local government to accept buffer averaging in order to accommodate variability in terrain or to accommodate development plans. For example, a wet land normally entitled by ordinance to a 75-foot minimum buffer may be able to tolerate a 50-foot buffer over part of its margin if a wider buffer is provided along another part. This may depend upon such issues as water ow, topogra phy, habitat and species needs, and other factors that can best be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Port Townsend, Washington allows buffer averaging if the applicant dem onstrates that the averaging will not adversely affect wet land functions and values, that the aggregate area within the buffer is not reduced, and that the buffer is not reduced in any location by more than 50 percent or to less than 25 feet. Woodbury, Minnesota allows buffer averaging where averaging will provide additional protection to the wetland resource or to environmentally valuable adjacent uplands, provided that the total amount of buffer remains the same.


March 2008 15 such structures be located outside the buffer. Oregon City, Oregon, allows new stormwater quantity and quality control structures to encroach a maximum of 25 feet upon a required buffer, but requires the area of encroachment to be replaced by an equal area of buffer on the property, requires good water qual ity at the outfall, and requires a determination of no signicant negative impact as a result of the changes. (.40.050(H)(6)) Some buffer ordinances do not list prohibited activities (or all prohibited activities), but state that buffer conditions must remain sufcient to protect the wetland or its functions. This requires the admin istrator of the ordinance to make ndings support ed by information on the anticipated impacts. For example, the Cape Cod Commissions Model Wet lands and Wildlife Bylaw provides that No project shall be permitted which will have an adverse effect on a vernal pool or any naturally vegetated land area within 350 feet of a vernal pool by altering topog raphy, soil structure, plant community composition, hydrologic regime and/or water quality in such a way as will result in any short-term or long-term adverse effect upon the vernal pool. No diversion of any new stormwater runoff into the vernal pool shall be per mitted. (IB2) New Lenox, Illinois, allows only the following activities, by permit, within the 75 foot buffer: 1) limited lling and excavating necessary for the devel opment of public boat launching ramps, swimming beaches, park shelters or similar structures, 2) land surface modication for the development of storm water drainage swales between the developed area of the site (including a stormwater detention facility on the site) and a stream, lake or pond, or wetland, 3) installing piers for the limited development of walk ways and observation decks, subject to mitigation by an equal area of wetland habitat improvement, and 4) modication of degraded wetlands for purposes of stormwater management where the quality of the wetland is improved and total wetland acreage is pre served. The ordinance requires that where such modi cation is permitted, wetlands shall be protected from the effects of increased stormwater runoff by measures such as detention or sedimentation basins, vegetated swales and buffer strips, and sediment and erosion control measures on adjacent developments, and that the direct entry of storm sewers into wetlands shall be avoided. (38-132) [ See Appendix for full text.] Many buffer ordinances identify a limited number of essential or water-dependent uses that are allowed as conditional uses by permit. For example, Charlotte County, Florida, provides that wetland buffers shall be maintained in a completely natural state except for the minimum disturbance necessary to provide: shoreline access to riparian property owners; the construction of utility crossings and shoreline stabilization structures permitted by federal and state regulatory agencies; the construction of bridges, drainage conveyances, and fences; and the removal of exotic vegetation. (3-5348(b)) Polk County, Wisconsin, allows limited uses within the buffer by permit; these include roads essen tial for agriculture or silviculture where no alternative alignment is practicable, water dependent uses, recre ation, utility crossings, and aquatic uses compatible with wetland preservation. (Art.7(D)(4)) Many ordinances also identify a set of limitedimpact activities that are allowed within the buffer without review or permit. Pickens County, Georgias, ordinance exempts conservation activities, outdoor passive recreation, forestry or agriculture conducted under state-approved Best Management Practices, education, science research, and nature trails. (26126) The Cape Cod Commissions model ordinance authorizes planting of native vegetation and habitat management to enhance the wetland values, unpaved pedestrian access paths no wider than 4 feet, main tenance of existing utility crossings and stormwater structures, new utility lines where the proposed route has been determined to be the best environmental al ternative, and accessory structures for existing houses where there is no feasible alternative and placement is as far from the wetland as possible, subject to review and approval by the Commission. (IIB2) Procedures for Review A wetland buffer ordinance should not just dene the buffer and prohibited and authorized activities, but should also provide for procedures that trigger the applicability of the ordinance and allow for nec essary determinations, specify standards for review, dene mitigation of authorized impacts, and specify whether and under what circumstances variances can be granted.


16 Planners guide to Wetland Buffers For Local Governments Administration of Ordinance Responsibility for applying the ordinance to landown ers and land development activities must be clearly as signed to a local government unit or body. If the ordi nance is part of the zoning code, this will ordinarily be the zoning administrator. Alternatively, responsibility may be assigned to a specialized board or commission, such as a wetland commission (as in Massachusetts). Baltimore County, Maryland, assigns these responsi bilities to its Department of Environmental Protec tion and Resource Management. If the ordinance is a wetland protection ordinance including regulation of activities in the wetland itself as well as in the buffer, it may be desirable to adopt a review process that is congruent with federal and state review procedures for wetlands. If the ordinance requires site-specic nd ings, such as variable buffer distances based on listed factors, it is desirable to have a technically trained pro fessional staff or consultants available to the adminis trator charged with carrying out the ordinance. Submittals Nashua, New Hampshire, species what triggers re view under the ordinance: A review process and procedure for applicabil ity to this article shall be caused by the follow ing proposed land use applications or required approvals: Building permit applications; zon ing board of adjustment applications; planning board applications; board of health applica tion; any other land use requiring a permit or approval as required by and within the Nashua Revised Ordinances. The initial review of any of the above-mentioned items shall cause a determination as to whether the land area in which the proposed use or activity is or is not within or abutting a wetland. (-574(a)) Many ordinances that allow some regulated activ ities or conditional uses within the wetland buffer, or that authorize variable buffer distances based on sitespecic conditions and proposed land uses, provide that the applicant must submit detailed information concerning the site. Summit County, Colorado, re quires submission of a detailed wetlands disturbance plan including mitigation improvements, revegeta tion plan, grading and erosion control measures, and a narrative explaining how a proposed activity in the wetland setback or a wetland area will meet the crite ria set forth in the ordinance. (.04) Schaum burg, Illinois, requires an applicant seeking to conduct an activity by special use permit within the 100-foot wetland buffer to supply a report of geological and soil characteristics, site grading and excavation plan, veg etation and revegetation description and plan, wetland delineation report, and stormwater management plan. (.196(d)) Many local jurisdictions in the State of Washington require applicants to submit a wetlands function scores as estimated using the Department of Ecologys Rating System or an acceptable alternative. Casselberry, Florida, requires an applicant seek ing an alternative buffer methodology to submit in formation addressing: erodibility of soils upland of the wetland line; depth of the water table below the soil surface in the zone immediately upland of the wetland line; and habitat requirements of aquatic and wetlanddependent wildlife based on habitat suitability, spatial requirements, access to upland habitat, and noise im pacts. (-11.1(C)(2)) Standards Nashua, New Hampshires, ordinance provides that in addition to enforcing the use and activity prohibitions and limitations for which a permit is required: Any use or activity proposed within one hundred (100) feet of a wetland shall be reviewed administratively by the zoning administrator for compliance with the follow ing performance standards: Green Development Standards In 2007, the U.S. Green Building Council nalized pilot rating standards for the new Leadership in Energy and En vironmental Design Neighborhood Development (LEED ND) certication program, which set standards for environ mentally superior development practices. Among the credits towards certication that may be earned for neighborhood location and design and green construction, developers can earn credit for preserving in perpetuity a buffer around all wetlands and water bodies located on site. Buffer dis tances, minimum of 100 feet, are to be calculated based on the functions provided by the wetland or water body, contiguous soils and slopes, and contiguous land uses. Lo cal governments that adopt buffer ordinances encourage LEED-ND developments.


March 2008 17 (1) That no signicant impact on the aquatic habitat of rare or endangered species, as listed by the State of New Hampshire or the Federal government, will result. (2) That the ltration of stormwater runoff is adequately provided for and controlled both during and after construction. (3) That the topography and required regrad ing of the subject property accounts for and adequately reects the proximity of a nearby wetland area. (4) All landscaping requirements and mainte nance regiments for a project will ensure that fertilizer and chemical run-off shall not enter the wetland. (5) Any wetland area utilized for water run-off shall demonstrate that excess ow on wetlands shall not cause excessive ponding and reten tion, thereby causing environmental damage to existing ora. (6) Where land is proposed to be subdivided, the applicant shall demonstrate that there is adequate non-wetland area to contain all pro posed uses, structures, and utilities in accor dance with these regulations. (7) No more than fty (50) percent of the open space required by the underlying zone shall be classiable as wetlands under the provisions of this article. (8) No part of a wetland may be counted in minimum lot area requirements. (575(d)). Mitigation Virtually all buffer ordinances that provide for per mitted uses or conditional uses within the buffer also require compensatory mitigation to offset unavoid able impacts to the buffer area. Compensatory miti gation involves the replacement of wetland acreage and wetland functions through restoration, creation, enhancement, or (in some cases) preservation of other wetlands, onsite or offsite. Mitigation may be required both for the wetland itself and for impacts to wetland buffers protected by local ordinance. For example, the Port Townsend, Washington, critical ar eas ordinance requires compensatory mitigation for any development proposal within a critical area or required buffer, and species mitigation replacement ratios. (.05.110(F1-F9)) Oregon City, Oregon, requires a mitigation plan and feasibility assessment. (.49.050(G)) Kusler (2007) identies factors that a local ordinance providing for compensatory mitiga tion should include. Variances Some wetland buffer ordinances include provisions for hardship variances, while others that are part of the zoning or land development codes rely on the jurisdictions normal variance standards and proce dures. Because of the health and safety aspects of wet lands buffer protections, variances are disfavored. Bay County, Florida, has a fairly typical provision, allowing a hardship variance in those situations where, due to the size, shape, topography, location(s) of wetlands, or similar factors, application of the wetland buffer would preclude reasonable use of the property involved. ((3)(d),(e)) The ordinance, however, limits vari ances for accessory uses to no more than 20 percent of the buffer. Afrmative Requirements Buffer ordinances are not limited to prohibiting dis turbances and encroachments. Many also set standards for the establishment and maintenance of buffer con ditions. Belleaire, Florida, provides that natural buffers must be retained or if a natural buffer does not exist an equivalent buffer shall be created. (-414(b)(3)(c)) Woodbury, Minnesotas buffer ordinance provides: Buffer areas must be established in appropriate vegetation such as native grasses, forbs, shrubs, and trees. The buffer area cannot consist pri marily of common or noxious weeds. After be coming established, the vegetation in wetland buffer areas must be left undisturbedThe requirement to leave the buffer area undis turbed does not prohibit the removal of dead, diseased, or dying vegetation, or the control of noxious or common weeds. (-4(b)(5),(6)) The Northeastern Ohio Model Ordinance pro hibits mowing, allows planting consistent with the buffers functions, but also limits landowner afrma tive obligations:


18 Planners guide to Wetland Buffers For Local Governments There shall be no disturbance, including mow ing, of the natural vegetation, except for such conservation maintenance that the landowner deems necessary to control noxious weeds; for such plantings as are consistent with this regulation; for such disturbances as are ap proved under the Uses Permitted section of these regulations; and for the passive enjoy ment, access, and maintenance of landscaping or lawns existing at the time of passage of this regulation. Nothing in this regulation shall be construed as requiring a landowner to plant or undertake any other activities in riparian and wetland setbacks. The Commerce City, Colorado, ordinance in cludes performance standards relating to the buffers function on the landscape and its potential connection to other natural areas: If the development site contains existing natu ral areas including oodplains that connect to other off-site natural areas with natural areas, to the maximum extent feasible the develop ment shall preserve the natural area connec tions. Such connections shall be designed and constructed to allow for the continuance of existing wildlife movement along the natural areas. ( 21-43 (b)(3)(c)) Monitoring, Reporting, and Enforcement Even the most comprehensive and scientic ordinance will not protect community interests if it is not en forced. Enforcement requires information, so local ju risdictions that have adopted buffer ordinances must allocate sufcient personnel to monitor approved buffers to identify possible violations. Some types of violations not visible from roadsides can be identied during yovers or from existing high-resolution aerial photographs from different points in time. To help maintain public support, the disposition of all inves tigated potential violations, as well as all approved or denied permits and variances, should be documented in a regularly updated database or report available to all citizens. Many wetland buffer ordinances do not specify their own enforcement provisions because they are part of the zoning code or subdivision regulations and are enforced by the usual array of enforcement tools provided in those ordinancesincluding authority to enter, stop work orders, notices to correct, cease-anddesist orders, injunctions, criminal prosecution, nui sance abatement, and penalties. It may be worthwhile to consider adding particular provisions for wetland buffer enforcement that address the vulnerabilities of these landscape features. For example, the ability of the local government to enter and monitor wetland and buffer condition, or to conduct restoration activi ties, may be important. This can prevent loss of the habitat and hydrological functions if a violator does not promptly take corrective action; similarly, provi sion for daily accrual of penalties may provide an im portant incentive to act promptly. Another issue is how the ordinance deals with en croachments or degradation affecting the wetland buf fer that is not caused by the developer at the time of a permitting decision, but later. Ordinances that are ex pressed solely in terms of setbacks or land development permit reviews may not sufciently address afrmative obligations to maintain the buffer in a functional con dition and prevent encroachments by homeowners or third parties. Where establishment and maintenance of the buf fer requires afrmative action by a landowner or devel oper, the ordinance may require the posting of a per formance bond or similar nancial guarantee. Summit County, Colorado, provides that a nancial guarantee must be posted to ensure compliance with its wetlands regulations, and that the term of the guarantee must extend for at least three years in order to ensure the success of vegetation plantings. (.06) Sturbridge, Massachusetts, provides that the town may require recordation of a restrictive covenant to ensure that long term recognition and function of the buffer are protected. (.10) Similarly, the Northeast ern Ohio model ordinance provides: Upon completion of an approved property subdivision/property/parcel split, commercial development or other land development or improvement, riparian and wetland setbacks shall be permanently recorded on the plat re cords for the Community and shall be main tained as open space thereafter through a per


March 2008 19 manent conservation easement. A third party, not the landowner or permittee or the Com munity, which is allowed by state law, shall be given the conservation easement. If no third party will accept the conservation easement, the Community shall accept it and protect it in perpetuity. Whenever possible it is desirable to monitor not just compliance with buffer requirements, but also changes in the condition of the wetlands. A few lo cal governments, such as Island County, Washington, have enacted and funded a long term water monitor ing program that will help evaluate buffer performance and allow for adaptive management to address any wa ter quality issues related to buffer underperformance or other changes in the surrounding environment. Conclusion: Adopt a Local Wetland Buffer Ordinance Wetland buffers protect communities from foresee able hazards and enhance community values. As such, wetland buffers reinforce many of the Smart Growth Principles, including compact design, distinctive com munities with a strong sense of place, critical environ mental and natural areas, and predictability in devel opment decisions. A community considering a wetland buffer ordi nance should be clear about its objectives. Spending time on developing the purpose statement will help clarify what the ordinance is intended to do, and will guide the process of dening what wetlands are to be protected, the appropriate buffer dimensions, allowable activities, review procedures, afrmative obligations, and enforcement provisions. Science should serve as the foundation for buffer protection. But this does not mean that communities need to commission an elaborate scientic study. A great deal of information is available from state environmen tal protection agencies, state natural heritage programs, and from other communities that have adopted wetland ordinances. The key lessons from wetland science are summarized in this publication and the sources cited in the References section. Two simple wetland buffer ordi nances adopted by local governments, and an example of a more detailed matrix approach to buffer size, are reproduced in the Appendix. The steps for adopting a local wetland buffer pro tection ordinance are: data gathering, planning to connect the wetland buffer pro tection to other community plans and goals, drafting the regulation or ordinance, notice of public hearings, adoption of the regulation or ordinance, provision for administration of the require ments, and enforcement. (Kusler & Opheim 1996). Buffer ordinances may be simple or complex, but they serve a critical role in maintaining community quality of life, management of stormwater and ood ing, protection of water quality and quantity, habitat conservation, and resilience to the future effects of global climate change on local communities. Smart Growth Principles 1. Mix land uses. 2. Take advantage of compact building design. 3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices. 4. Create walkable neighborhoods. 5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place. 6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty and criti cal environmental areas. 7. Strengthen and direct development towards existing com munities. 8. Provide a variety of transportation choices. 9. Make development decisions predictable, fair and cost effective. 10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions. Smart Growth Network:


20 Planners guide to Wetland Buffers For Local Governments Chipley, Florida: .5-21. Buffer required. A thirty-foot buffer of native vegeta tion, subject to site plan approval, shall be required around and along all wetlands. Such buffer shall be measured from the [De partment of Environmental Resources] wetlands jurisdictional line. The property owner may create a pathway through the buffer for visual or authorized pedestrian access to the wetland provided that the pathway is limited to a ve-foot wide swath. Village of New Lenox, Illinois: Sec. 38-131. Intent. This article applies to development in or near streams, lakes, ponds, and wetlands within the Village of New Lenox. Streams, lakes, and ponds (including intermittent streams) are those which are shown on the United States Department of the Interior Geological Survey (USGS) 7.5 minute quadrangle maps and those additional streams, delineated on the villages compre hensive plan. Those maps are hereby made a part of this article, and two copies thereof shall remain on le in the ofce of the village administrator for public inspection. Within the jurisdiction of the Village of New Lenox, those waterbodies and watercourses that are named and are subject to the provisions of this article are Jackson Creek, Jackson Branch Creek, Sugar Run Creek, Hickory Creek, Marley Creek, and Spring Creek. Wetlands are those designated in the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service/Illinois Department of Conser vation wetland inventory. The procedures, standards and requirements contained in this article shall apply to all lots within wetlands and streams, and all lots lying wholly or in part: (1) Within the special ood hazard area (SFHA) designated by the federal emergency management agency (FEMA); (2) Within 100 feet of the ordinary high water mark (OHWM) of a perennial stream or intermittent stream, the ordinary high water mark of a lake or pond, or the edge of a wetland; or (3) Within depressional areas serving as oodplain or stormwater storage areas. Sec. 38-132 Minimum setback of development activity from streams, lakes, ponds, and wetlands. Absolutely no development activity (except as provided below) may occur within the minimum setback which is dened as 75 feet from the ordinary high water mark of streams, lakes, and ponds, or the edge of wetlands, or with in a designated depressional area. In no case shall the setback be less than the boundary of the 100-year oodway as dened by FEMA. These setback requirements do not apply to a stream in a culvert unless the stream is taken out of a culvert as part of development activity. If a culvert functions as a low-ow culvert, where water is intended to periodically ow over it, the setback requirements ap ply. Review waiver of this article for proposed development activity within the minimum setback area will consider the following: (1) Only limited lling and excavating necessary for the de velopment of public boat launching ramps, swimming beaches, or the development of park shelters or similar structures is allowed. The development and maintenance of roads, parking lots and other impervious surfaces necessary for permitted uses are allowed only on a very limited basis, and where no alternate location outside of the setback area is available. (2) Land surface modication within the minimum setback shall be permitted for the development of stormwater drainage swales between the developed area of the site (including a storm water detention facility on the site) and a stream, lake or pond, or wetland. Detention basins within the setback are generally discour aged, unless it can be shown that resultant modications will not impair water quality, habitat, or ood storage functions. (3) No lling or excavating within wetlands is permitted ex cept to install piers for the limited development of walkways and observation decks. Walkways and observation decks should avoid high quality wetland areas, and should not adversely affect natural areas designated in the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory or the habi tat of rare or endangered species. (4) Wetland area occupied by the development of decks and walkways must be mitigated by an equal area of wetland habitat improvement. (5) Modication of degraded wetlands for purposes of storm water management is permitted where the quality of the wetland is improved and total wetland acreage is preserved. Where such modication is permitted, wetlands shall be protected from the ef fects of increased stormwater runoff by measures such as detention or sedimentation basins, vegetated swales and buffer strips, and sediment and erosion control measures on adjacent developments. The direct entry of storm sewers into wetlands shall be avoided. The applicant shall present evidence, prepared by a qualied professional, that demonstrates that the proposed development ac tivity will not endanger health and safety, including danger from the obstruction or diversion of ood ow. The developer shall also show, by submitting appropriate calculations and resource invento ries, that the proposed development activity will not substantially reduce natural oodwater storage capacity, destroy valuable habitat for aquatic or other ora and fauna, adversely affect water quality or ground water resources, increase stormwater runoff velocity so that water levels on other lands are substantially raised or the dan ger from ooding increased, or adversely impact any other natural stream, oodplain, or wetland functions, and is otherwise consis tent with the intent of this article. In addition to locating all site improvements on the subject property to minimize adverse impacts on the stream, lake, pond, or wetland, the applicant shall install a berm, curb or other physi cal barrier during construction, and following completion of the project, where necessary, to prevent direct runoff and erosion from any modied land surface into a stream, lake, pond, or wetland. All parking and vehicle circulation areas should be located as far as possible from a stream, lake, pond or wetland. The Village of New Appendix I. Simple Buffer Ordinances


March 2008 21 Lenox may limit development activity in or near a stream, lake, pond, or wetland to specic months, and to a maximum number of continuous days or hours, in order to minimize adverse impacts. Also, the Village of New Lenox may require that equipment be operated from only one side of a stream, lake, or pond in order to minimize bank disruption. Other development techniques, condi tions, and restrictions may be required in order to minimize ad verse impacts on streams, lakes, ponds, or wetlands, and on any related areas not subject to development activity. Sec. 38-133 Natural vegetation buffer strip required. To minimize erosion, stabilize the stream bank, protect water quality, maintain water temperature at natural levels, preserve sh and wildlife habi tat, to screen manmade structures, and also to preserve aesthetic values of the natural watercourse and wetland areas, a natural veg etation strip shall be maintained along the edge of the stream, lake, pond or wetland. The natural vegetation strip shall extend land ward a minimum of 25 feet from the ordinary high water mark of a perennial or intermittent stream, lake, or pond and the edge of a wetland. These guidelines are outlined in the publication Native Plant Guide for Streams and Stormwater Facilities in Northeastern Illinois jointly published by the Fish & Wildlife Service, NRCS, IEPA, and Army Corps of Engineers. Within the natural vegetation strip, trees and shrubs may be selectively pruned or removed for harvest of merchantable timber, to achieve a ltered view of the waterbody from the principal struc ture, to control the spread of undesirable invasive species such as buckthrow or box elder, to restore a balanced community of native plant species, and for reasonable private access to the stream, lake, pond or wetland. Said pruning and removal activities shall ensure that a live root system stays intact to provide for stream bank sta bilization and erosion control. The vegetation must be planned in such a way that access for stream maintenance purposes shall not be prevented.


22 Planners guide to Wetland Buffers For Local Governments Habitat Buffers Land use Intensity Habitat Functions Score 50 or higher 42-48 39-41 32-38 Less than 32 Low 150 ft 125 ft 100 ft 75 ft Use Water Quality & Slope Tables Moderate 225 ft 175 ft 150 ft 110 ft High 300 ft 200 ft 175 ft 150 ft Water Quality Buffers Land Use Intensity Wetland Category Wetland Outlet A B C D E Low Yes 40 ft 35 ft 30 ft 25 ft 20 ft No 75 ft 50 ft 40 ft 35 ft 25 ft Moderate Yes 90 ft 65 ft 55 ft 45 ft 30 ft No 105 ft 90 ft 75 ft 60 ft 40 ft High Yes 125 ft 110 ft 90 ft 65 ft 40 ft No 175 ft 150 ft 125 ft 90 ft 50 ft Slope Adjustment Slope Gradient Additional Buffer Multiplier 5-14% 1.3 15-40% 1.4 >40% 1.5 Island County, Washington: This excerpt is based on Island Countys draft ordinance from November 2007, which reects a sophisticated use of the matrix ap proach to buffer distance. The ordinance rst prescribes buffers for a few types of particularly sensitive wetlands (especially bogs, coastal lagoons and estuarine wetlands), with wider buffers for more intensive land uses. Then it establishes matrices to calculate buffers for other wetlands based on land use intensity, habitat condition, and wetland sensitivity (as predicted by slope and presence or absence of a surface water outlet). Wetlands that lack outlets and are adjoined by steep slopes are presumed to be more sensitive to accumulation of sediment and contaminants, so receive larger buffers. For most wetlands both habitat and water quality buffers are calculated separately and the larger buffer (usually habitat) is applied. (The numbers below should be taken as illustrative). The habitat calculation is: Appendix II. Matrix Approach to Buffer Distance The water quality value is then adjusted for slope: The water quality calculation includes differing buffers based on wetland type (A-E) and whether there is a surface water outlet from the wetland. This matrix approach is more complex than a single number, but can better reect scientic understanding, particularly with diverse wetland types and land use conditions in a locality. With appropriate public outreach and technical support, a matrix-driv en buffer can gain public support and achieve good results.


March 2008 23 Ordinances: Boulder, CO, Commerce City, CO, Summit Coun ty, CO, New Castle County, DE, Alachua County Land Devel opment Regulations, FL, Bay County Development Code, FL, Bellaire Land Use Regulations, FL, Belle Isle Land Development Code, FL, Bunnell Land Development Code, FL, Casselberry Pres ervation of Wetlands Ordinance, FL, Charlotte County Surface water and wetland protection ordinance, FL, Chipley Wetlands Resource Protection Ordinance, FL, Crestview Environmentally Sensitive Lands Ordinance, FL, Forsyth County Soil Erosion and Sediment Control ordinance, GA, Lumpkin County Soil Erosion and Sediment Control ordinance, GA, Pickens County Wetlands Protection Ordinance, GA, Lake County Uniform Development Ordinance, IL, New Lenox Wetland Protection Ordinance, IL, Schaumburg Biodiversity Zoning Overlay, IL, LaPorte, Indiana, Lexington-Fayette Riparian Buffer Ordinance, KY, Biddeford Shoreline Zoning Ordinance, ME, Eliot Shoreline Zoning Ordi nance, ME, Lewiston Shoreline ordinance, ME, Baltimore County Environmental Protection and Resource Management Ordinance, MD, Barnstable Wetlands Protection Ordinance, MA, Holyoke Wetland Protection Code, MA, Sturbridge Wetland Bylaw, MA, Woodbury Preservation of Waterbodies and Wetlands Ordinance, MN, Nashua Wetlands Ordinance, NH, Croton-on-Hudson Wet lands and Watercourses Ordinance, NY, Monroe County Freshwa ter Wetlands Protection Law, NY, Summit County, OH, Oregon City Water Quality Resources Overlay District, OR, Bensalem Natural Resources Preservation Districts Overlay, PA, Charleston Zoning Ordinance, SC, Mount Pleasant Critical Line Buffer Ordi nance, SC, Henrico County Chesapeake Bay Preservation Overlay, VA, Petersburg Chesapeake Bay Overlay, VA, Fife Wetlands pro tection ordinance, WA, Island County Critical Areas Ordinance, WA, King County Shoreline Management ordinance, WA, Port Townsend Critical Areas Ordinance, WA, San Juan County Shore line Management Ordinance, WA, Polk County Shoreland Protec tion Zoning Ordinance, WI. Model Ordinances: Association of State Wetlands Mangers Inc. Model Ordinances for Regulating Wetlands and Riparian/Stream Buffers ( nance_051407.pd f ), Cape Cod Commission Model Wetlands Bylaw ( htm l ), Center for Watershed Protection : A Local Ordinance to Protect Wetland Functions ( ticles/WetlandsArticle4.pd f ), MACC Model Wetlands Protection Bylaw/Ordinance ( c ), New Jersey Model Riparian Buffer Ordinance ( BufferOrdinance.pd f ), Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency Ordinance Controlling Riparian Setbacks and Wetland Setbacks ( l ), Stormwater Center Model Forest Buffer Ordinance ( http://www.longisland land.pd f ), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Aquatic Buf fer Model Ordinance ( ht m ), Westchester County Model Wetland Protection Ordinance ( nance_Westchester.pd f ). Ordinances Chiey Consulted


24 Planners guide to Wetland Buffers For Local Governments Adamus, P.R. 2007. Best Available Science for Wetlands of Island County, Washington: Review of Published Literature. A Report Prepared in Response to Critical Areas Ordinance Updating Requirements for Wetlands. BestAvailableSciencePhaseII.pdf.pd f Cappiella, K., T. Schueler, J. Tasillo & T. Wright. 2005. Adapting Watershed Tools to Protect Wetlands. Center for Watershed Protection, Ellicott City, MD. Castelle, A.J., C. Conolly, M. Emers, E.D. Metz, S. Meyer, M. Witter, S. Mauermann, T. Erickson, and S.S. Cooke.1992. Wetland Buffers: Use and Effectiveness. Washington Department of Ecology. Publication No. 92-10. Chase, V.P., L.S. Deming, F. Latawiec. 1997. Buffers for Wetlands and Surface Waters: A Guidebook for New Hampshire Municipalities Audubon Society of New Hampshire. City of Boulder. 2007. Wetland and Stream Buffers: A Review of the Science and Regulatory Approaches to Protection. Cooke, S.S. 1992. Wetland Buffers: Use and Effectiveness. Appendix A: Wetland buffers A Field Evaluation of Buffer Effectiveness in Puget Sound. Washington Department of Ecology. Publication No. 92-10. Correll, D.L. 1997. Buffer Zones and Water Quality Protection: General Principles. In : Buffer Zones: Their Processes and Potential in Water Protection. The Proceedings of the International Conference on Buffer Zones September 1996. Haycock, N.E., T.P. Burt, K.W.T. Goulding, and G. Pinay (Eds). Quest Environmental. UK. Cowardin, L. M., V. Carter, F. C. Golet, and E. T. LaRoe. 1979. Classication of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitats of the United States. U. S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C. Coyne, M. S., R. A. Gilllen, R. W. Rhodes and R. L., Blevins. 1995. Soil and Fecal Coliform Trapping by Grass Filter Strips During Simulated Rain. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 50(4): 405-408. DeLuca, W. V., C. E. Studds, and P. P. Marra. 2004. The Inuence of Land Use on the Integrity of Marsh Bird Communities of the Chesapeake Bay. Wetlands 24: 837-847. Dillaha, T. A., J. H. Sherrard, D. Lee, S. Mostaghimi, and V.O. Shanholtz. 1988. Evaluation of Vegetative Filter Strips as a Best Management Practice for Feed Lots. Journal of the Water Pollution Control Federation 60(7):1231-1238. Dillaha, T.A., R.B. Reneau, S. Mostaghimi, and D. Lee. 1989. Vegetative Filter Strips for Agricultural Nonpoint Source Pollution Control. Transactions of the ASAE 32:513-519. Emmons & Olivier Resources (EOR). 2001. Benets of Wetland Buffers: A Study of Functions, Values and Size. Prepared for: Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, Deephaven, MN. Environmental Law Institute. 2003. Conservation Thresholds for Land Use Planners. Washington DC. Federal Interagency Floodplain Management Task Force (FIFMTF). 1996. Protecting Floodplain Resources: A Guidebook for Communities. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA 268/June 1996). Fischer, R. A. 2000. Width of riparian zones for birds. Ecosystem Management and Restoration Research Program Technical Notes Collection, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Vicksburg, Mississippi. p Gallagher, J.L. and H.V. Kibbey. 1980. Marsh Plants as Vectors in Trace Metal Transport in Oregon Tidal Marshes. American Journal of Botany 67:1069-1074. Herrmann, H.L., K.J. Babbitt, M.J. Baber, and R.G. Congalton. 2005. Effects of Landscape Characteristics on Amphibian Distribution in a Forest-Dominated Landscape. Rangeland Ecology & Management. 57:58-65. Herson-Jones, L. M., M. Heraty and B. Jordan. 1995. Riparian Buffer Strategies for Urban Watersheds. Washington, DC: Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Houlahan, J.E. and C.S. Findlay. 2003. The Effects of Adjacent Land Use on Wetland Amphibian Species Richness and Community Composition. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 60:1078-1094. Houlahan, J.E. and C.S. Findlay. 2004. Estimating the Critical Distance at which Adjacent Land-Use Degrades Wetland Water and Sediment Quality. Landscape Ecology 19: 677. Island County, Washington. PLG-011-07. Wetlands Ordinance. Kusler, J. 2003. Wetlands and Watershed Management A Guide for Local Governments. Pub. No. 28. Association of State Wetland Managers. Berne, NY. Kusler, J. 2007. Model Ordinances for Regulating Wetlands and Riparian Habitats/Stream Buffers Discussion Draft. Association of State Wetland Managers, Inc. Available at jon_kusler/model_ordinance_051407.pd f Kusler, J, & T. Opheim. 1996. Our National Wetland Heritage: A Protection Guide (2d ed.) Environmental Law Institute, Washington, D.C. Kuusemets, V. and U. Mander 1999. Ecotechnological Measures to Control Nutrient Losses from Catchments. Water Science and Technology 40(10): 195-202. Lowrance, R. and J.M. Sheridan. 2005. Surface Runoff Water Quality in a Managed Three Zone Riparian Buffer. Journal of Environmental Quality 34:1851-1859. References


March 2008 25 Magette, W. L., R. B. Brinseld, R. E. Palmer and J. D. Wood. 1989. Nutrient and Sediment Removal by Vegetated Filter Strips. Transactions of the ASAE 32(2): 663-667. Mayer, P.M., S.K. Reynolds Jr., and T.J. Caneld. 2005. Riparian Buffer Width, Vegetative Cover, and Nitrogen Removal Effectiveness: A Review of Current Science and Regulations. EPA/600/R-05/118. Cincinnati, OH, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. McElsh, J. 2004. Nature-Friendly Ordinances. Washington D.C. Environmental Law Institute. Parkyn, S. 2004. Review of Riparian Buffer Zone Effectiveness. MAF Technical Paper No. 2004/05. New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Wellington, New Zealand. rural-nz/sustainable-resource-use/resource-management/reviewriparian-buffer-zone-effectiveness/techpaper-04-05-riparianeffectiveness.pd f Parkyn, S., W. Shaw, and P. Eades. 2000. Review of Information on Riparian Buffer Widths Necessary to Support Sustainable Vegetation and Meet Aquatic Functions. NIWA Client Report ARC00262. Rapanos v. United States, 126 S. Ct. 2208 (2006). Rubbo, M.J. and J.M. Kiesecker. 2005. Amphibian Breeding Distribution in an Urbanized Landscape. Conservation Biology 19:504-511. Schoonover J.E., K.W. J. Williard, J.J. Zaczek, J.C. Mangun and A.D. Carver 2006. Agricultural Sediment Reduction by Giant Cane and Forest Riparian Buffers. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution 169: 303 315. Semlitsch R.D. and J.R. Bodie. 2003. Biological Criteria for Buffer Zones around Wetlands and Riparian Habitats for Amphibians and Reptiles. Conservation Biology 17(5): 1219-1228. Sheldon, D., T. Hruby, P. Johnson, K. Harper, A. McMillan, S. Stanley, and E. Stockdale. 2005. Freshwater Wetlands in Washington State Vol. 1: A Synthesis of the Science. Washington Department of Ecology, Olympia. Shirley, S.M. 2004. The Inuence of Habitat Diversity and Structure on Bird Use of Riparian Buffer Strips in Coastal Forests of British Columbia, Canada. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 34:14991510. Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 531 U.S. 159 (2001). Strommen, B., K. Cappiella, D. Hirschman, and J. Tasillo. 2007. A Local Ordinance to Protect Wetland Functions. Ellicott City, MD: Center for Watershed Protection. Available at articles/WetlandsArticle4.pd f Syversen, N. 2005. Effect and Design of Buffer Zones in the Nordic Climate: The Inuence of Width, Amount of Surface Runoff, Seasonal Variation and Vegetation Type on Retention Efciency for Nutrient and Particle Runoff. Ecological Engineering 24:483-490. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2003. Where the Land and Water Meet: A Guide for Protection and Restoration of Riparian Areas. First Edition. Available at water/complete-bufferbook.pd f U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. n.d. Model Ordinance: Aquatic Buffers. Available at ht m Vidon, P.G.F., and A.R. Hill. 2004. Landscape Controls on Nitrate Removal in Stream Riparian Zones. Water Resources Research 40: W03201. Wenger, S. 1999. A Review of the Scientic Literature on Riparian Buffer Width, Extent, and Vegetation. Available at http://www.rivercenter. f Wigington, P.J. Jr, S.M. Grifth, J.A. Field, J.E. Baham, W.R. Horwath Owen, J.H. Davis, S.C. Rain and J.J. Steiner. 2003. Nitrate Removal Effectiveness of a Riparian Buffer along a Small, Agricultural Stream in Western Oregon. Journal of Environmental Quality 32:162-170. Wilson, J.D. and M.E. Dorcas. 2003. Effects of Habitat Disturbance on Stream Salamanders: Implications for Buffer Zones and Watershed Management. Conservation Biology 17(3): 763-771. Wong, S.L. and R.H. McCuen. 1982. The Design of Vegetative Buffer Strips For Runoff and Sediment Control. A Technical Paper Developed as Part of a Study of Stormwater Management in Coastal Areas Funded by Maryland Coastal Zone Management Program.


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