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Economics and Survival of Hand Planted Riparian Forest Buffers in West Central Maine Sally Butler and John Long, USDA-NRCS, Bangor, Maine. INTRODUCTION

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Economics and Survival of Hand Planted Riparian Forest Buffers in West Central Maine

Sally Butler and John Long, USDA-NRCS, Bangor, Maine


Maine NRCS recently conducted a case study on the survivorship and establishment costs of two riparian forest buffers planted during 2002 under the continuous CRP program in Somerset County, Maine.

Recommendations were made for planting rates, the number of trees shelters and geotextile mats to be used, and site preparation. The establishment cost data will be useful as well for planning riparian forest buffers in the future, and in setting conservation program cost-share reimbursement rates.


Considering the significant additional cost of shelters and mats installed on all plants, analyze using these on a portion of all plants to cut costs – put savings toward adequate site prep and stocking rate.

Considering relatively low cost and high importance of site prep, it should be strongly encouraged.

Specifically delineate the buffer planting area prior to design and installation of riparian buffer.

Always match plants to site soil characteristics.

Prepare site by mowing, herbiciding, tilling. Do not rely on geotextile mats for weed control.

Plant at least 2 or more tree and shrub species of each type in case of large scale mortality of a species.

Properly plant healthy, climate-adapted seedlings.

Use tree shelters only if there is a known animal damage problem, and always use them with mats to prevent small mammal damage.

Control weeds after planting for at least 3 years and inspect tree shelters every year.

A survival rate of 50% or better and a stocking rate of 400 trees per acre or better is needed to ensure proper buffer functioning in the future.

See Literature Review on this subject published by NRCS in 2003 and follow the recommendations for artificial regeneration presented in that technical paper.

For a copy of this case study, go to Section V of the Maine NRCS eFOTG at , or contact:

  • Findings from Economic Analysis
  • Without proper site preparation, seed placement, stocking rate, etc., high additional cost of shelters and mats aren’t justified
  • Tree shelters and mats on every plant doubled the per acre installation cost of the buffers
  • Site 1 had lower overall establishment cost than site 2, and higher survivorship
  • Although site 1 had higher survivorship than site 2, it was still too low to produce desired results


A modified protocol, developed by the University of Washington and Lummi Indian Nation, was used to obtain field data in the buffers. A total of 24 sample plots each 1/50th acre in size was surveyed. Data was collected on species planted, planting rate, survival rates, use of tree shelters and geotextile mats, and animal damage.

Bills submitted for cost-share reimbursement were collected from NRCS field office records. Establishment budgets were constructed to itemize the various costs for materials and services. Costs were analyzed on a per acre and per plant basis.

Plant survival rates and average establishment costs were compared. Using the cost data collected, scenarios with various planting rates, numbers of tree shelters and geotextile mats, and types of site preparation were constructed to analyze tradeoffs between establishment cost and likelihood of plant survival.

Two-year old white birch and redosier dogwood shown growing in fenced buffer area.

Geotextile mat overgrown with existing vegetation.

Red maple seedling planted with tree shelter and geotextile mat in 2002.

  • Findings on Survivorship
  • Survival rates within all the survey plots together were less than 50 percent for all plants.
  • A major factor in survival appeared to be the correct placement and planting of the seedlings.
  • Another factor was the selection of appropriate species for the soil and site conditions.
  • Planting more than one species of trees and shrubs ensured against total failure.
  • All trees had shelters and all shrubs had geotextile mats.
  • Animal damage was light in both studies, but existing herbaceous competition was intense.

USDA is an Equal Opportunity Provider and Employer.

Sally Butler, Forester

(207) 990-9957 [email protected]

John Long, Economist

(207) 990-9504 [email protected]


967 Illinois Avenue, Suite 3

Bangor, ME 04401