Effects of prescriptive riparian buffers on landscape characteristics in northern Minnesota, USA

Jo Ann M. Hanowski, Peter T. Wolter, Gerald J. Niemi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Forest buffers adjacent to water bodies are widely prescribed in forest management to protect ecological functions of riparian systems. To date, buffers have been applied on the landscape uniformly without quantifying their effectiveness or the effects they have on landscape characteristics. Our objective was to quantify landscape characteristics (amount of edge and interior forest) when buffers were applied to water bodies in a 100 by 100 km area of northern Minnesota. We used a Landsat classified image in a geographic information system platform to apply two buffer widths - 28.5 m and 57 m - to water bodies, including nonforested wetlands, intermittent or perennial streams, and lakes. A total of 107,141 ha (18.3 percent) of the forest area was adjacent to and within 28.5 m of these water bodies, while 201,457 ha of forest was within 57 m, representing 34.4 percent of the total forest area. Imposing a 28.5 m buffer on water bodies increased the amount of edge and interior forest in the study area. When water bodies were buffered with a 57 m forest strip, we found a slight increase in forest edge from the current condition, and this buffer width resulted in the largest amount of interior forest. Interior forest increased with the 57 m buffer due to the density of water bodies in this region; adjacent water bodies coalesced when buffers were applied and formed isolated forest islands that contained forest interior habitat. Instead of wholesale application of set width riparian buffers, we suggest that ecological conditions of riparian areas be evaluated on a site level and that areas that currently provide important riparian conditions be maintained on the landscape with appropriate management practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)633-639
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Forest edge
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Interior forest
  • Landscape metrics
  • Remote sensing
  • Riparian forests


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