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Riparian Rangers: Volunteer Stewards of Our Streamside Forests

The Alliance is seeking motivated Pennsylvanians dedicated to clean water to become Riparian Rangers! A Riparian Ranger is more than a volunteer opportunity; it’s a chance to shepherd a streamside restoration project from its flashy beginnings through the part that really matters: after the trees are planted. A Riparian Ranger is assigned a streamside forest buffer that they visit monthly during the growing season. At each visit, they complete the hands-on tree care tasks: straightening stakes and tree tubes, removing bird exclusion nets, checking for invasive plants, rodent damage, broken fencing, and noting how many trees need replanting. All the essentials to ensure tree survival and project success.

A Riparian Ranger peeks into a tree tube to check whether tree within it is healthy.

Riparian Ranger Eric Resch checks in on a tree at a buffer site planted this spring in Leola, PA. Photo courtesy Ryan Davis.

 

We started our Riparian Ranger program after some hard-learned lessons in streamside forest management. In April 2018, the Alliance kicked off our Pennsylvania Streamside Forest Buffer Program with three riparian tree plantings in Lancaster County. In July, the rain began falling and didn’t seem to stop; by mid-September, Lancaster County had received more rainfall than we see on average for the entire year.

Two of our projects were underwater for most of that summer and the long-term flooding caused serious damage. Fast-moving water pushed over tree shelters and wrapped so much debris around exclusionary electric fence that the current no longer carried, allowing heifers to push through gates and demolish many of the few trees still standing. In areas where cows didn’t get into the buffer and the shelters remained upright, trees grew unexpectedly fast and got caught in the bird nets that cap each shelter.

I was devastated by the damage I saw during my summer check-ins. But thanks to our scrappy team at the Pennsylvania Alliance office, and with contractors on hand for necessary mowing and vegetation control, we made sure each tree was tended to, and to my surprise, continued to flourish in adversity. Native trees are tough, and riparian species even more so than others. They are adapted to floods and disturbance, and can survive for weeks pinned to the ground by a snapped stake as long as they get straightened up sooner than later.

This experience, however, was a wake-up call. We had six new projects to plant in the fall, and over twenty planned for the following spring. I had seen hundreds of buffers at this point in my career, most of them failed, without realizing how much success hinged on individualized attention to each tree. As I saw our trees planted growing into the thousands, I knew our small team needed help.

A group photo of a handful of Riparian Ranger volunteers.

A handful of our 2019 Riparian Rangers at a winter maintenance training in Lancaster County. From left to right: Becky Zolko, Bronwen Hartranft, Tim Ostermeyer, Brian Koser, Carol Campbell, and Ben DeGaetano. Photo courtesy Ryan Davis.

 

Luckily, there are a lot of people in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed – including you –  who wish they could pitch in on conservation efforts in a serious way. Our Riparian Rangers program follows the successful examples of ClearWater Conservancy’s Stream Buffer Habitat Steward program and Stroud Water Research Center’s monitoring protocols. A Riparian Ranger’s monitoring and tree care can improve tree survivorship dramatically, result in improved landowner satisfaction, and help us do our job better.

This summer, Riparian Rangers are stewarding twenty streamside forest buffers planted by the Alliance and our partner organizations. Volunteer opportunities are now available in southeastern Pennsylvania, but we are looking to grow to support more areas, more partners, and more buffers!

To learn more about becoming a Riparian Ranger and volunteering, contact Ryan Davis, Pennsylvania Forest Program Manager, at rdavis@allianceforthebay.org.

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Ryan Davis Chesapeake Forests Program Manager, Pennsylvania Office

Ryan is the Alliance's Program Manager for our Chesapeake Forests program. He focuses on forest conservation and restoration within the watershed in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York.

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