Buffer Options for the Bay

DURHAM, NH – N.H. Fish and Game’s Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (GBNERR) and the New Hampshire chapter of the Nature Conservancy have co-led a project over the past few years aiming to better understand how to protect buffers more effectively in coastal New Hampshire. Called “Buffer Options for the Bay” or “BOB,” the project has created a website, bufferoptionsnh.org, and a suite of reports and maps to support policy and land use decisions in New Hampshire’s Great Bay region. These resources give recommendations for buffer width and how to get a conversation started in your town about buffers, as well as economic statistics on how valuable services such as clean water are to residents.

Buffers are things that reduce the shock of contact. A good example is airbags, which cushion the impact of a crash. Likewise, the land running along the water’s edge is a buffer against the impact of development on a water body. Healthy, intact buffers help keep our waters clean and our basements dry, offer a home for wildlife, and protect oyster beds and eelgrass. They provide all these benefits and more by moderating some of the major stressors on the health of our region’s water bodies, including water quality problems, rising sea levels, extreme storms, and loss of habitat.

“Buffers are a simple, nature-based solution,” said GBNERR Program Supervisor Cory Riley. “We need to understand where and how they work best, and what our current challenges are in New Hampshire to protecting buffers more systematically in the watershed.”

As with many environmental issues, the challenges associated with buffer management stem from the interplay of natural systems, community perspectives and values, economics, and the regulatory environment. To address this complexity, the project assembled a diverse group of experts encompassing resource managers, social scientists, ecologists, hydrologists, and economists. This team produced a range of detailed and stand-alone products related to buffers, including a synthesis of peer-reviewed literature in the fields of ecology and economics; an assessment of community attitudes and values towards buffers; an analysis of municipal and state policies relating to the issue; an economic valuation of water quality in the Great Bay ecosystem based on a meta-analysis approach; and maps identifying priorities for buffer protection and restoration within each town in the watershed. The team also worked with an advisory committee to compile a detailed list of potential actions that can be taken to advance the effectiveness of buffer management in the watershed.

The information and tools available on the website can be used to inform a range of activities, including land acquisition, management, and protection; restoration; community engagement and decision maker training; and policy making.

The project was sponsored by the National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science Collaborative, which supports collaborative research that addresses coastal management problems important to reserves and their communities. The Science Collaborative is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and managed by the University of Michigan Water Center.