What is a Buffer Zone?

A buffer zone is an undeveloped area directly adjacent to a body of water. Buffer zones include aquatic plants in shallow water, moisture-loving plants along the shore, and upland plants in dry soils.

In Massachusetts the buffer zone extends 100-feet horizontally outward from the boundary of any resource area and two hundred (200) horizontal linear feet outward from the boundary of any river or perennial stream. This area is subject to protection under the MA Wetlands Protection Act (M.G.L. 131, § 40) & its Regulations (310 CMR 10.00 – 10.60), and the Georgetown Wetlands Protection Bylaw & its Regulations.

The primary purposes of buffer zones are to:

  1. Reduce runoff by increasing stormwater infiltration into soil. Less runoff means less nutrients and other pollutants entering the water -- excess nutrients are the primary cause of algal blooms and increased aquatic plant growth.
  2. Stabilize soils with plant root systems.
  3. Reduce shoreline erosion due to wave action.
  4. Purify water with aquatic vegetation.
  5. Improve wildlife and fish habitat by providing food, shelter, and shade.

Native plant buffer zones are invaluable for wildlife habitat. A study done in northern Wisconsin looked at the impact to wildlife when natural shorelines were replaced with developed shorelines. Researchers found that the number of frog species, as well as the total number of frogs, was significantly reduced in lakes where native vegetation and woody debris were removed from the shoreline. Many bird species were also lost, particularly those depending on insects for food and those that nest on the ground.

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