Riparian setbacks good for all
Date posted: July 5, 2013
Re: Matejov letter, June 29
I do not disagree with every point John Matejov made about the proposed riparian buffer. I admire and respect his taking the time to express his thoughts. I do have some differing views, however.
The 50-foot riparian buffer regulation is Sheridan County’s response to citizen input for the 2008 County Comprehensive Plan to identify what values were important to citizens then and what they wanted the county to look like in the future. Riparian areas and their function to filter water for the streams, provide wildlife habitat, scenic values and open space were among the top values expressed during the two-year public participation process. After public review, the County Board of Commissioners passed the Comprehensive Plan that sets goals and policies including: conserve and restore riparian corridors, rivers and streams; maintain overall water quality and quantity; and support wildife habitat protection. There are more specific goals in the plan under each topic.
Science was included in determining the distance of the riparian buffer. The 50-foot buffer is recommended based upon eight different research studies between 1977 and 1995 which included recommended widths of vegetation buffer strips to improve or protect water quality. The average buffer width recommended in these studies was 50 feet, thus the recommended 50-foot buffer. The source of these studies is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Ecosystem Management and Restoration Research Program.
Other science includes wildlife studies that identify riparian wildlife habitat as the most important single habitat type in Wyoming, yet riparian areas cover just over 1 percent of the state. It is among the habitat types most used and altered through human activity and development. In Wyoming, 61 percent of 445 terrestrial vertebrate species are believed to show preference for riparian areas and 73 bird species have been identified as using riparian habitat for breeding, nesting, during migration, as travel corridors and for year-around habitat (Wyoming State Action Plan, 2010, Riparian Areas, WGFD, 2010). Less habitat equals less wildlife.
The proposed buffer zone is a “taking.” I agree, but there needs to be further discussion. It is not a taking by or for individual benefit but for the public good. Example: Our house lot is 76-feet-by-140 feet and we pay taxes on our lot each year. However, there is a 5-foot utility easement along the back of the lot and a 5-foot easement along the south side of the lot for the water line to the fire hydrant. These easements not only benefit me but my neighbors, as well, and I’m good with that. In addition, the city has a 10-foot right of way in front of the lot and regulations say I cannot build within 5 feet of the property line with my neighbors. I’m also good with that, as my neighbor must stay 5 feet back, so we are assured at least 10 feet between our houses. The point is, these easements and regulations benefit me as well as the community I live in.
I have no studies to refer to about the possible effect on property values, but if I were a buyer, I would be comforted to know that adjacent or up-stream landowners would provide a 50-foot buffer protecting ground water, open space and scenic values of riparian areas. I would be more concerned, as a buyer, if there were no protection.
The proposed regulation describes and illustrates the starting point of a riparian buffer along classified streams. The outside boundary of a riparian area would be identified by the change to arid soils and vegetation. Public, high quality aerial photos would be used to identify this outside boundary, or if necessary, an on the ground county inspection would determine it. In Wyoming’s dry climate, the change is quite easy to locate.
Riparian areas are extremely important to water quality, scenic values, open space and wildlife. All of these have been identified by county citizens more than once as important values. I, like Mr. Matejov, wish there did not have to be regulations, but I support the proposed riparian buffer zone because societies must have regulations to function and this regulation will protect these important values for the Sheridan County community into the future.
Editor’s note: The Sheridan Press waived its word limit on the above letter, as the original letter referred to from John Matejov also exceeded the limit.