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Thread: Ecological reasons for wetland buffers

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Ecological reasons for wetland buffers

    We get a lot of objections to our environmental resources code which requires significant buffering around wetlands with native vegetation. Developers cringe at the prospect of providing a 50-foot buffer. Obviously wetlands are degraded by fill activities in proximity to them, but is a 50 foot buffer twice as good as a 25 foot one from an ecological perspective? Or is there a minimum buffer width that will serve to protect the wetland?

  2. #2
    50ft seems pretty standard to me. As far as an ecological reason, I'm not sure. Basically, the larger the buffer the better in order to minimize impacts. From a purely ecological standpoint, any type of development is damaging because it didn't exist there before. The simplest form of protection is using isolation distances.

    I know of places that require a 100ft buffer from wetlands and surface water.
    In the beginning there was nothing...then Chuck Norris Roundhouse kicked that nothing in the face and said "Get a job". That is the story of the universe.

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    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Our county requires a 100 foot setback from wetlands, as defined by the current Federal Manual for Identifying and Delineating Wetlands, and a 50-foot buffer. In our part of the arid West, a lot of natural wetlands have already been filled in and made into farmland. What remains we would like to preserve. It ain't easy.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

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    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    Arbitrary numbers like that, I find, can be problematic. Depending on the topography, the land could be draining into a different watershed just 20' away. I had a discussion with a guy who had his Phd in wetlands hydrology when NJ was talking about requiring a 300' buffer from wetlands. He was pushing for a more scientific description of a buffer. For example, you might have 50' but that 50 may take runoff across an acid-producing soil that would acidify the wetland water and make it difficult for anything to survive in it. If you are trying to create a dense town center, would a wide buffer render a large swath of it unbuildable, and thus pushing development to greenfields farther out? Traditionally, cities were built close to bodies of water. Would a large buffer make that impossible?
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    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    Maybe it would depend on the number of ZBA cases you get from developers requesting a variance from the ordinance. If there aren't many, then the developers are meeting the 50 foot buffer without any problem, despite their gripes.
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Generally our state DNR requires 75 feet. If the dreaded Butler Garder Snake is believed to be present, it increases to as much as 300 feet.

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    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    When I worked in Ketchikan, Alaska, which seemed to be about 98 percent muskeg, the Army Corps of Engineer field agent had what he called "the wing-tip test" when developers disputed wetlands delineations. The wing tip test goes as follows: invite the developer and his lawyer to visit the site for the discussion. Where the attorney stops (in his wing-tips) is where the wetland begins.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

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    Cyburbian tsc's avatar
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    In our county they are pushing from 100 foot buffers to 150 foot. I will look through our docs to see if there is an eco-justification
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