Buffer Strips are a Win-Win for Ohio.

Buffer strips, or land adjacent to farmland composed of wetlands, grasses, or woods serve serval key purposes in Ohio. Buffer strips are a recognized best practice by such agencies as the ODNR, EPA, and USDA in promoting better outcomes for bodies of water, fish, wildlife, and land users such as farmers and ranchers.1,2,3 Buffer strips create improved outcomes in a variety of way. From the farmers’ and ranchers’ perspectives, they reduce soil erosion, improve yields, and protect crops, livestock, and structures from harsh weather and high winds.1,2 From an environmental perspective, they reduce runoff of sediment, chemicals, and nutrients into waters, provide food, shelter, and movement corridors for wildlife, and create feeding, spawning, and nursery habitats for fish.1,2,3,4

While not utilizing land for farming or ranching use would seem to be against the best interests of farmers, that is not the case. In fact, the previously mentioned benefits for farmers and ranchers are just the beginning of how leaving or creating buffer strips is beneficial to farmers and ranchers. Buffer strips along waterways, referred to as riparian forest buffers and grassed waterways by the Ohio EPA, serve land users’ interests by reducing soil erosion and runoff.1,3,5 Both soil erosion and runoff hurt land users by removing costly inputs (such as fertilizers, pesticides, and nutrients) and soil from the fields and pastures where they are most needed.1 This affects land users financially by making them pay more to lay down more pesticides, fertilizers, and soil treatments than they would have had to if they were able to reduce runoff and erosion. Another benefit of buffer strips for farmers and ranchers is that they act as wind buffers, which reduces wind erosion in addition to protecting livestock from fast moving winter winds that kill cattle, or harsh spring storms that blow down young crops.1 Certain types of buffer strips also provide shelter for livestock during hailstorms.1 By now, it would seem evident enough that buffer strips are a boon to land users, but there are even more ways that farmers and ranchers can benefit from buffer strips. Buffer strips serve as prime wildlife habitat, as they are often the convergence of movement, feeding, shelter, and watering areas for wildlife.1,3, When viewed from this perspective as prime habitat, a savvy landowner can derive even more profit from buffer strips by leasing their land to hunters or by hunting themselves. Finally, landowners can derive additional financial benefits from buffer strips through state and federal incentive programs such as the federal Conservation Reserve and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs and state of Ohio payments.6 These initial payments are up to $500/acre for wooded buffer strips and annual payments of up to $180/acre are possible.5,6 When considering that field and pasture edge land is usually the lowest producing area a landowner has, the earning potential is very competitive with possible earnings from cultivation.1,5,6 However, this doesn’t factor in savings in time and money from not having to cultivate the buffer strip and the cost sharing offered for the initial planting of buffer strips.1,5,6

From an environmental perspective, buffer strip benefits are more intuitive. Grassland and woodland buffer strips protect against sedimentation of rivers and lakes by reducing wind and water erosion.1,2 Buffer strips also protect against fertilizer and pesticide runoff by offering an avenue of absorption for those contaminants.1,2,3,5 This is especially beneficial because certain nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are known to be leading contributors to harmful algae blooms and to invasive species such as Asian carp that thrive under those conditions.5,7 Buffer strips also serve to create habitat for wildlife, especially species such as rabbits, quail, and grouse that need grass-to-forest transitional areas that buffer strips often replicate.1,2,8,9,10 In addition to creating nesting, feeding, and sheltering areas for wildlife, buffer strips facilitate movement of wildlife such as bears, deer, coyotes, and bobcats that need to move in order to eat, drink, and establish new territories.1,2 Thus far, this paragraph has mostly focused on the environmental benefits that grassy and wooded buffer areas provide. One of the most critical types of buffer areas is wetlands.4,5 Wetlands serve unique purposes such as being exceptional nitrate and pesticide filters for aquifers and ground water.4,5 Wetlands are also unique in that they provide spawning, nursery, and feeding areas for several types of fishes.5 Finally, wetlands are critical to wildlife such as waterfowl, amphibians, and aquatic mammals that need the unique shallow and sheltered environment that wetlands provide.5

By now, it is easy to understand that buffer areas are a win-win for Ohio and its land users. They help farmers and ranchers save money by protecting their crops and livestock and reducing crop and pasture inputs and afford a good source of income in terms of incentives and leasing opportunities. Buffer areas are critical to the environment due to their ability to protect water and provide habitat for Ohio’s wildlife and fishes.


  1. National Resources Conservation Service. Buffer Strips: Common Sense Conservation. [accessed 2019 Jun 10]. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/home/?cid=nrcs143_023568
  2. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Soil and Water Resources. 2007 Mar 1. Ohio Stream Management Guide No. 13, Forested Buffer Strips. Ohio Department of Natural Resources. [accessed 2019 Jun 11]. http://soilandwater.ohiodnr.gov/portals/soilwater/pdf/stream/stfs13.pdf
  3. Ohio EPA, Surface Water Division. 2010 Jan 21. Total Maximum Daily Loads for the Twin Creek Watershed, Appendix E, Implementation and Reasonable Assurances. [accessed 2019 Jun 12]. https://epa.ohio.gov/Portals/35/tmdl/GrandUpper_AppE_Final.pdf
  4. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife. 2007 Dec. Ohio’s WILD Wetlands! A Project WILD Supplement. Ohio Department of Natural Resources. [accessed 2019 Jun 12]. https://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/portals/wildlife/pdfs/education/WetlandBook.pdf
  5. Snyder FL. CASE STUDY: Buffer Strips Improve Lake Erie Water Quality. Ohio Sea Grant . [accessed 2019 Jun 13]. http://ohioseagrant.osu.edu/archive/_documents/outreach/extension/fsnyder/CS_buffers.pdf
  6. S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency. 2000 Apr. Fact Sheet- Conservation Reserve Program, Ohio Enhancement Program. Farm Service Agency . [accessed 2019 Jun 12]. https://www.fsa.usda.gov/Internet/FSA_File/crepoh00.pdf
  7. Flesher J. 2015 May 6. Algae makes Erie more vulnerable to Asian carp. Detroit Free Press. [accessed 2019 Jun 13]. https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2015/05/06/asian-carp-lake-erie-algae/70885896/
  8. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife. 2014. Eastern Cottontail Rabbit – Sylvilagus floridanus. Ohio Department of Natural Resources. [accessed 2019 Jun 14]. http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/species-and-habitats/species-guide-index/mammals/eastern-cottontail-rabbit
  9. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife. 2017. Northern Bobwhite Quail – Colinus virginianus. Ohio Department of Natural Resources. [accessed 2019 Jun 13]. http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/species-and-habitats/species-guide-index/birds/northern-bobwhite-quail
  10. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife. 2019. Ruffed Grouse – Bonasa umbellus. Ohio Department of Natural Resources. [accessed 2019 Jun 13]. http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/species-and-habitats/species-guide-index/birds/ruffed-grouse


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