Restoring Conservation Lands

River Buffer Restoration and Protection

The USFS has ranked the Merrimack River as the most threatened watershed in the nation due to loss of forests from housing pressures, 4th in the nation for the corresponding impact to water quality, and 7th for loss of habitat for species at risk (Stein, Forests on the Edge, 2009).

These threats imperil both people and wildlife. The Merrimack supplies drinking water for 600,000 people between the states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire; it is considered one of the top three most important large rivers on the East Coast for migratory fish (Dauwalter, Trout Unlimited, 2012).

The greatest pollution threat to the Merrimack River is polluted runoff (i.e., storm-water runoff), from the land. Increasing amounts of pavement (called impervious surfaces) lead to more polluted runoff. The extensive forests in our watershed provide a critical ecosystem service: they help keep the water clean for both wildlife and people. The plants along the river banks can absorb pollutants washing over the land as it rains. In addition, these river buffer areas provide critical habitats for many creatures that inhabit our watershed, and shade to help protect the streams and rivers from solar heating. Forests can help to reduce the pollution created by storm-water runoff and impervious surfaces.

In 2014, the MRWC, with our partners, the Nashua River Watershed Association, Mass Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the UNH Cooperative Extension, started an ambitious 3-year project funded by the US Forest Service. The goal of this project is to restore, better manage, and protect land within the riparian buffers of six targeted subwatersheds within the Merrimack watershed.

Our approach uses precision methods to improving water quality, a new and valuable approach for tackling storm water and improving water quality (Carey, 2013). To date, our team has completed a buffer analysis for each of the 144 HUC12 sub watersheds (each one about 40-50 square miles) in the watershed to identify areas where the impervious amounts are less than 7% in the river buffer (see figures below).

The 4 HUC12s we have selected to date (South Branch of the Piscataquog River (NH), Squannacook River (MA), Whitman River (MA), and Nashua-Catacunemaug to Squannacook River (MA) rank as among the most important for riparian restoration in the Merrimack watershed, based on metrics for water quality (pollution levels along with outstanding waters) and value to species (cold-water fishes, threatened/endangered species, freshwater resilience, and connectivity). Another 2 HUC12s in NH are in the process of being selected.

Objectives include:

  • Public outreach to interested towns and private landowners to protect or restore those riparian buffers that make the greatest impact to improving water quality and benefiting wildlife.
  • Work with interested towns/cities to increase well-managed forested buffers through ordinance and by-law development, outreach to municipal Conservation Commissions and landowners to encourage Forest Stewardship plans for municipal/private lands, and technical assistance for restoration and tree planting.
  • Training of private foresters and municipal officials in buffer restoration forestry practices.
  • Working with state agencies, Conservation Commissions, and local partners to coordinate voluntary restoration planting of a mixed tree/shrub/grass buffer at 14 targeted sites in 4 sub-watersheds.

Outputs include:                                     

  • Improved management and protection of 1500 acres of private and municipal forest added to the Forest Stewardship Program and 30 Forest Stewardship Plans.
  • Outreach to municipal and private forest landowners, including Conservation Commissions, to demonstrate buffer forestry BMPs and tree planting Outreach to 40 towns and 60 landowners.
  • Restoration of 20 demonstration riparian buffer sites planting 1200 saplings.
  • Work with NRCS to try to obtain NRCS funding for six demonstration buffer restoration projects under the Conservation Reserve and Wetland Reserve Programs (CRP/WRP).

If you want to help on this project by assisting in planting trees and shrubs, please email MRWC welcomes anyone who wants to help volunteer for this effort. We plan to provide opportunities for Conservation Commissions, private landowners and community members to work on these specific areas with us.



This figure represents the percentage of impassable surfaces per HUC12.


This figure represents the percentage of impassable surfaces per HUC12 within a 100 meter buffer zone.


Urban Bird Sanctuary and Public Recreation

The MRWC owns over 65 acres of conservation land. In 2014-2015, we are working to create an Urban Bird Sanctuary and Public Trails at our 17 acre parcel in Andover. This land along the Shawsheen River contains three high-quality bird habitats (riparian forest, emergent wetland, and grass/shrubland). With a grant from the Commonwealth of Massachusett’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, we are working with high-school students and other volunteers to create the trails, remove invasive species, and plant natives to benefit birds, other wildlife, and the public.