Urban Riparian Buffer Program


The Importance of Riparian Buffers

Healthy creeks, streams and rivers are dependent on healthy forested stream banks, often referred to as riparian buffers. These forested riparian buffers offer many benefits not only to individual landowner’s property, but also to the overall health of the entire watershed and everyone living downstream. These buffers can help stabilize eroding stream banks, filter out sediments and chemicals before they reach the waterway, help recharge groundwater, preserve or improve wildlife and aquatic habitat, and add scenic and economic value to the land. Buffers can also help to reduce flooding by absorbing high velocity stream flows, and can help regulate the water temperature of streams.

The Tennessee Urban Riparian Buffer Program

To help raise public the awareness of the importance of riparian buffers and to help restore degraded buffers in a target area, in 2012 the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry (TDF) initiated a pilot program through a grant from the USDA Forest Service to help restore riparian buffers along streams and waterways in 8 priority watersheds located in Davidson, Rutherford and Williamson Counties in middle Tennessee (Upper Mill Creek, Lower Mill Creek, Richland Creek, Browns Creek, Hurricane Creek, Stone's River Middle, Stone's River Upper and Whites Creek). These watersheds were identified in the TDF's 2010 Forest Action Plan as being Urban Forestry Priority Areas and/or as not having adequate riparian forest cover.

This new program provided native trees to public and private landowners, as well as to local watershed and conservation organizations, at no cost to be planted along streams and waterways in the 8 priority watersheds (see map). The Program's Riparian Buffer Coordinator provided technical assistance, including assistance with plant selection and designing a planting plan.  In most cases volunteers were available to assist the landowner and/or the partner watershed organization with the planting of the trees.  All that was asked of the landowner was that the trees be protected to ensure that they could grow to maturity and provide their full benefits to the adjacent waterway. There were no easements or other property right restrictions placed on the landowner's property, however, written permission of the landowner was secured before any planting was done.  Annual visits by Riparian Buffer Program Coordinator, with the landowner's permission, were conducted to assess the restored buffer’s condition and to provide the landowner with technical assistance on maintaining the trees and the associated buffer.

Buffers were restored on a variety of public and private properties, including parks, schools, churches, and greenways, as well as on private properties.  Volunteers included individuals, scout groups, business employees, church groups, watershed and conservation organizations, local stormwater program, and other public agencies .


Between January 2012 and April of 2015, this Program partnered with numerous local non-profit watershed and conservation organizations, local stormwater programs, local governmental organizations, and numerous volunteers to achieve the following:

Total Individual Projects – 170

Total Planting Sites – 50

Total Trees Planted – 27,756

Total Feet of Buffer Planted – 30,451

Total Acres Planted – 23

Total Seedlings Potted -5,082

Total Volunteers – 2,755

Total Volunteer Hours – 7,809

Urban Riparian Buffer Handbook

While funding under this Program is no longer available, the following web-links offer helpful resources to those interested in organizing or participating in a riparian buffer tree planting project.  Much was learned through these projects from our partners and volunteers alike, as well as from other similar program throughout the county.  Along the way processes were continually refined and improved.  Now, these lessons learned have been distilled into a new Tennessee Urban Riparian Buffer Handbook, a Practical Guide to Establishing Health Streamside Buffers.  This new publication, available at no cost at the following link below, provides step by step guidance on planning; organizing and conducting volunteer based riparian buffer tree planting projects, as well as handouts that can be helpful in engaging the public as volunteers and in securing landowners permission to allow riparian buffer plantings.

What You Can Do

You can join in the efforts to help improve the quality of our watersheds. If you live on a waterway, creek, stream or river, you can help by simply maintaining existing riparian buffers on your land.  However, if riparian buffers on your land are in need of restoration, then you can seek assistance from your local stormwater program, a local watershed or conservation organization, or other resources on this page to help you get started.  Or, you can volunteer to organize and lead a riparian buffer tree planting event on other property with the landowners permission, or simply volunteer to help plant trees on a project already planned.  With everyone pitching in to do their part, everyone will benefit from improved water quality in watersheds throughout the state.


Tennessee Urban Riparian Buffer Handbook

TWRA Riparian Tree Grant

Tennessee Environmental Council’s Annual Statewide Tree Day

Tennessee Stormwater Association

Tennessee Conservationist Magazine -  You may purchase copies of the September/October 2015 issue including the article: Voluntary Community Efforts to Protect and Restore Riparian Buffers, at this site.

Metro Nashville Low Impact Development Guide

Or, contact your local Stormwater Program or local watershed organization.