Conservation Buffers and CREP
Thriving fish and wildlife populations depend on the condition of their habitat. We, as humans, play a big part in that condition. It is our responsibility to take care of our natural resources so that wildlife habitats are protected. Conservation buffers can help us do just that.
Conservation buffers are strips of vegetation that grow on the edges of fields and waterways. They are designed to intercept sediments and nutrients, reduce soil erosion, and protect the soil. They can be grass, trees, shrubs, or a combination of all three. Depending on their purpose, they can be 25 feet to hundreds of feet wide.
From a wildlife standpoint, conservation buffers are amazing. They provide countless benefits including shelter and food. One of the most valuable things they can provide is wildlife corridors. Wildlife corridors are connections from one habitat to another. Most species experience high levels of mortality moving across open landscapes, such as harvested crop fields. Moving within a strip of trees and/or grasses (conservation buffer) is a much safer way to travel from one habitat to another.
Water quality protection is another important benefit of conservation buffers. When planted between a crop field and surface water, buffers trap and filter pollutants such as sediment, nutrients, and pesticides in water runoff before it enters the surface water. Buffers that include trees play an important role by shading streams. Many fish species cannot tolerate elevated water temperatures and the shade helps to moderate stream temperatures. They also provide food such as fruit, limbs, leaves and insects for stream bottom bacteria, fungi, and invertebrates to eat.
The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). It is a Farm Bill program that provides technical and financial assistance to plan and install conservation practices to protect water quality and improve wildlife habitat. These practices include buffers such as filter strips, riparian buffers, and windbreaks. Landowners who have cropland in the Saginaw Bay Watershed may be eligible to enroll in CREP. The Farm Service Agency administers CRP programs, and the Shiawassee Conservation District develops the conservation plans for both Shiawassee and Livingston Counties. Contact the Shiawassee Conservation District for more information on CREP or conservation buffers.
Native wildflowers and legumes such as alfalfa, can be planted in filter strips to provide habitat diversity for wildlife including honey bees, native bees, and other beneficial insects. Photo credit NRCS/SWCS, Lynn Betts.