Riparian buffer width and landowner preference in Macon County, North Carolina
Smith, Anne Eleanore Chesky
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When aggregated, how individual landowners decide to manage their land can have dramatic implications for stream health regionally. In this study, I interviewed 31 western North Carolina landowners who had participated in a riparian buffer restoration program more than a decade ago. I compared the landowners’ reported preferences for managing their riparian zones to the current average width of their riparian buffer. The results of this study show that even among those who invested in riparian buffer restoration work on their property, lack of understanding of how or why to maintain a riparian buffer as well as individual preferences for narrower buffers often outweighed the goals of the restoration. Narrower average buffer widths were generally attributed to management that met a personal aesthetic preference or allowed visual or physical access to the river. Among landowners who actively managed their land, the most successful buffers were those under conservation easement.