Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Cleanup and Good Stewardship of my Resource Protected Area

It was a long harsh winter in this part of Virginia. Spring as always seems to arrive suddenly and I was faced will a garden that had been damaged by the severe winter storms and a few misses by the snow plow. The past week and a half have been warm and spring like and that is all it took for the first buds of spring to appear. It was time to assess the garden, the woods and do a spring cleanup. As I walked the few miles surrounding my house I watched homeowners take different approaches to the spring cleanup. There were lots of homes (mine included) where trees were downed by the storms. We maintain woods on most of our property an area larger than the mandated Resource Protected Area (RPA) under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and manage it as one riparian forest buffer. Our spring assessment began with the woods.

The Regulations of the Chesapeake Bay Protection Act require that a vegetated buffer area of at least 100-feet wide be located adjacent to of all tidal shores, tidal wetlands, certain associated non-tidal wetlands, and along both sides of all water bodies with perennial flow within the Tidewater region. These aquatic features, along with the 100-foot buffer area, are the RPAs and serve to protect water quality by reducing excess sediment, nutrients, and potentially harmful or toxic substances from groundwater and surface water entering the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. In the RPA the roots of the woody vegetation helps to maintain the stability of the stream bed, minimizing bank erosion to limit sediment. A wooded buffer has porous soils from leaf litter, fungi, twigs, fallen branches and associated bacteria all help to enhance the infiltration of the rain water and snow runoff. The root mass and forest floor also retains nutrients, aids in denitrification and pollution degradation.

As an engineer, I do not truly understand the nuances of the forest ecosystem. It is a complex mix of trees, understory shrubs and groundcover. Over time the process of natural succession occurs. Small saplings develop and will become the next generation of trees as the older ones die out. I take on faith that understory trees are a necessary part of this ecosystem and that insects, disease, ice and wind are a normal part of the succession process. In a forested area the roots, twigs and leaf litter and detrius are important for slowing storm water runoff and trapping debris and sediment. The twigs and roots also trap blown litter. So, our spring clean up of the RPA is to walk the woods collecting plastic bottles, and other litter. We walked the woods to make sure that nothing is amiss, pick up litter and see the river. There is always something magical about flowing water. This year my husband made a little video of the river running.

Several trees had been downed in the woods along with many branches. Pretty much we don’t have to worry about those trees. Benign neglect is the rule for RPAs which appeals to my lazy heart. We did cut off a section of tree that had crushed our fence and fallen into our manicured garden. However, that tree was not in the RPA. We left the two parts of the tree in the woods. I am thinking of expanding the wooded border with some additional tree plantings. Our big cleanup in the RPA this year was finding an old tire and a part of an appliance (I would guess washing machine). We removed the trash from the woods and took a bunch of pictures of the river and called it a day after ensuring we had not picked up any ticks. (Lyme disease is not a joke.) Now we are done, so much for spring cleanup of the riparian buffer zone. Next up the manicured garden.

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