Flood events, windstorms, deer herbivory, droughts, invasive plant competition, voles…there are a lot of factors preventing you from growing if you are a newly planted tree seedling. And as they say, things were different a few decades ago. As a seedling back then, you wouldn’t have had as many deer to hide from, or invasive plants to outcompete, or dramatic weather events to withstand. But now, due to a variety of factors, like our changing climate and increasingly fragmented landscape, that’s changed.

As a resident or engaged supporter of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, you may be aware that we are in desperate need for these seedlings to overcome these factors and grow into healthy forests. Numerous non-profits, government organizations, and private entities are planting new forests, but these forests need regular maintenance and monitoring if they are going to become established. The goal set in 2007 was and is to plant 900 miles of riparian forest buffers within the watershed each year in order to have 70% of the riparian corridor reforested by 2025. Although we aren’t currently coming anywhere close to reaching that goal, progress is being made, meaning there are more and more acres of riparian forest buffer that need to be taken care of each year.

If those numbers sound daunting and make you want to take action, you’ve come to the right place; there are ways you can help support these seedlings to evade deer and vole herbivory, out-compete the invasive plants, and recover from major weather events!

In order to help these seedlings grow and fix any damage to recently planted riparian forest buffers, the Alliance started a volunteer program called Riparian Rangers. These volunteers are matched with a site to check on each month from April through November. During each check, they fix fallen stakes, straighten tree shelters, remove or replace bird nets as needed, remove tree shelters when they need to come off, and report back any major concerns about the site. Since Riparian Rangers regularly check up on their sites, they are able to see it grow over each year and change with the seasons. Riparian Rangers have proved invaluable numerous times since the start of the program; they are there to fix up the site after flood events and quickly report if there are any fencing concerns on agricultural sites.

This bird net needs to be removed so that it does not harm the tree over time. This is a crucial task that RIparian Rangers complete (Photo credit: Rebecca Lauver ).

The Riparian Rangers program is expanding, and with directly trained Alliance volunteers, it covers Lancaster, York, Chester, Cumberland, Adams, Franklin, Lebanon, and Schuylkill counties in Pennsylvania. The program also has a new addition of regional “Branches” which are subgroups of the volunteer program that are run by a regionally based partner organization, like conservation districts or watershed associations. These groups are able to take care of sites that weren’t planted by the Alliance, allowing for even more forests to be taken care of. Currently, there are Branches in York and Juniata counties, and this summer, Branches will be launched in Synder and Cumberland counties. The growth doesn’t stop there, though, as plans are in place to also start Branches in other neighboring counties, and throughout Maryland.

Riparian Ranger Dave Lauver checks up on his site. This specific planting is several years old now and many of the trees are peaking out of the shelters now (Photo credit: Rebecca Lauver).

For many Riparian Rangers, this volunteer program is a way to get outside, give back to the community, and help ensure we have forests in the future to enjoy. Jay Brenneman, a dedicated Riparian Ranger, seedling grower, and volunteer tree planter says, “I enjoy helping with buffer plantings because I can help the environment, have some exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and spend time learning from some amazing folks.” For Lou Schellenberg, a more recent member of the Riparian Rangers program, volunteering as a Riparian Ranger is “physically fun, hands-on work tending to trees, seeing them grow and knowing you’re helping the environment.”

“I enjoy helping with buffer plantings because I can help the environment, have some exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and spend time learning from some amazing folks.”

– Jay Brenneman, Riparian Ranger

Anyone who participates in the Riparian Ranger program gets to attend an annual training and is also shown their assigned site in person. We also provide a training packet, which includes an invasive species guide and a training video that covers everything you’d need to know when taking care of your site. You can check out the new webpage here!

The new and improved logo for the Riparian Rangers program features a swamp white oak leaf, a favorite riparian forest tree.

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and our reforestation partners are constantly adding additional acres of plantings, and we need your help to effectively reforest our watershed! In order to take care of all of the Alliance’s sites, we’d need at least 70 more Riparian Rangers! If this type of work sounds appealing to you, sign up through the inquiry form at the bottom of the Riparian Rangers webpage. The Riparian Ranger program allows you to get your hands dirty and help our much-needed forests take root. In the words of Brian Koser, an inaugural Riparian Ranger from the first wave of recruits in 2019, “the Riparian Ranger program is [his] way of building a legacy of environmental caring, for future generations to enjoy.”

Become a Riparian Ranger