BUFFER MANAGEMENT FOR PROPERTY OWNERS
IN THE CHESAPEAKE BAY CRITICAL AREA.


The State Critical Area Law and the adopted local program require that the first 100-300 feet from tidal wetlands be managed to protect aquatic and shoreline environments from man- made disturbances. Existing Vegetation is to be protected and planting of unvegetated areas is to be strongly encouraged. Although the Critical Area includes the first 1000 feet, the State recognized that the first 100-300 feet required the special protection.
  
Within this basic statement of requirements, there are special conditions and circumstances that may change the approach to the Buffer on individual property. This page sets out to answer some of the questions and to suggest practical measures for maintaining your Buffer.
  
DO I HAVE BUFFER ON MY PROPERTY?
  
Many people are surprised when they are told that a Buffer falls across their lot. It is important to remember that this line is from all tidally influenced waters and wetlands and may be increased to include adjacent sensitive areas such as nontidal wetlands. Since Somerst County's topography is so low, many areas, which seem far from the Bay, may fall into the Critical Area and the 100-300 foot Buffer.
  
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO BE SURE OTHER THAN HIRING A SURVEYOR?
  
The Department of Technical and Community Services maintains overlay maps which you can review. Staff will be happy to go over the maps which you can review. Actual site conditions can be different, however, and before you brgin a project, it is best to have the Staff measure the Buffer if the maps indiacteit is presen. If you are subdividing your property, your surveyor will be required to show the Buffer.
  
WHAT IS ALL THIS ABOUT EXPANDING THE BUFFER BEYOND 100 FEET?
  
When there are areas adjacent to the Buffer which are considered sensitive and proposed development will impact streams, wetlands and aquatic habitat, the law requires that the Buffer be expanded. Sensitive areas include steep slopes, highly erodable soils and hydric soils. There are special formulas for this expansion about which the staff can inform you or your surveyor.
  
WHAT IF MY LOT IS TOO SMALL AND IF I BUILD I WILL HAVE TO DISTURB THE BUFFER?
  
Grandfathered lots, that is lots that have existed as of December of 1985, may be able to obtain a Buffer variance which allows building in the Buffer. To receive such a variance , the property owner has an advertised hearing before the Board of Zoning AppealsThe State Critical Area Commission comments on the variance and the proerty owner must prove that the Buffer regulations present a hardship to him and that he does not have alternatives.
  
YOU SAID THAT WATER DEPENDANT FACILITIES AND ACCESS ARE ALLOWED. WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BUFFER DISTURBANCE?
  
Minor clearing is allowed for private pier access, shore erosion devices or water dependant structures, but erosion devices or water dependant structures, but replacement s required. Also access is limited to one point and impervious surface should be installed only when necessary and limited to the least necessary disturbance. All Federal, State and local permits should be in place before such development occurs.
  
EXPLAIN FURTHER WHAT I CAN DO TO KEEP TREES IN THE BUFFER IN A HEALTHY CONDITION.
  
Trees that are diseased or in danger of falling down may be removed and recognized horticultural practices and pest cotrol are allowed. Individual trees may also be cut for personal use. In all cases, care should be taken that all legal requirements are met and the number of trees are documented in larger projects. The County recognizes the documentation of a licensed forrester, landscape achitect or similer professional. The Department staff is also willing to offer assistance to property owners.
  
WHAT ABOUT VINES AND INVASIVE SPECIES?
  
It is often necessary to control the growt of vines and invasive species in the Buffer. This is covered by the horticultural practices rule. The County has provided a list of noxious species which you may need to control. Keep in mind that you do not want to bushhog in the area, which may impede the ability of the Buffer to protect water quality, but merely to control the species. Also, although phragmites may be a recognized pest and is generally considered as having a poor habitat value, it may also provide erosion control than many other species on a rapidly eroding shoreline. The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources can help you decide the most effective way to eradicate or control invasive species
  
EXPLAIN THE REQUIREMENTS FOR FARMING AS OPPOSED TO RESIDENTIAL OR OTHER USES.
  
Agricultural fields must maintain a 25 foot vegetated filter strip, or a Best Management Practice (BMP) which is its functional equivalent. You should consult with Soil Conservation staff on your water qulaity plan. However, when non-agricultural development takes place on a former agricultural field, the Buffer returns to the 100-300 feet and forest vegetation should be planted or must be allowed to regenerate.
  
I HAVE FOREST ON MY LAND AND I WOULD LIKE TO HARVEST IT AT SOME POINT. ARE THERE SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS.
  
Commercial harvesting is allowed, but the first fifty feet of Buffer is protected except for harvest by selection or clearcutting of lobolly pine and tulip poplar only. A Timber Harvest Plan is required, as is a Forest Management and Buffer Management Plan. A registered professional forrester can prepare this.
  
THE MAPS SAY MY LOT IS IN A BUFFER EXEMPT AREA. DOES THIS MEAN I DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THE BUFFER?
  
Buffer Exemption Areas are developed in areas in which the buffer is prevented from fulfilling its functions as a filter for sediment and run-off and as a habitat and protection for natural environment of streams and wetlands. Lots in htese areas do not have to go to the Board of Appeals for a Buffer Variance, but they do have to limit new development in the Buffer and either plant trees in mitigation or pay into a fund that will help to protect water quality in the Bay.
  
IN SHORT, EXACTLY WHAT CAN I DO AND CAN'T DO IN THE BUFFER?
  
No new development activities (including structures, roads, and parking areas) are permitted within the Buffer, except for those necessarily associated with water dependant facilities, such as marinas. Agricultural activities may be permitted within the Buffer under certain guidelines. The cutting and clearing of trees is not allowed unless you have a Buffer Management Plan prepared by a professional forrester and approved by the Department of Technical and Community Services. However diseased or damaged trees can be removed in the Buffer, as can an individual tree for personal use. Clearing of veretation should be limited to the clearing of vines, noxious species, etc. Native species such as bayberry(wax myrtle) and waterbush(marshelder), which are frequently found in the Buffer within the County should not be periodically cleared.
  
MY LOT IS ALREADY DEVELOPED. CAN'T I MOW MY OWN LAWN?
  
Yes, the County realizes that some Buffer has been used as a maintained yard long before the Critical Areas regulations. However, you are encouraged to consider the benefits of planting or allowing for additional vegetation in the Buffer as a benefit to water quality and to protect your stream bank from erosion. If you plan any new development on your lot, you may be required to list the number of trees/plantings you are required to complete and which must have a ninety percent survival rate after the first growing season. DTCS staff will provide additional information.
  
NOW I KNOW I HAVE A BUFFER I HAVE TO PROTECT, BUT WHAT ABOUT BUFFER MANAGEMENT
  
The objective of Buffer Management is to maintain natural vegetation and enhance shoreline for stabilization purposes with planting of native trees, etc. The ultimate goal is to protect water quality by providing a filter strip for runoff before it reaches the Bay and its tributaries. A treed Buffer also protects riparian wildlife habitat, in part by moderating stream water temperature.
  
With this in mind, it becomes clear that the Buffer should not be cleared and tress removed except under special circumstances. When disturbed, the Buffer must be replanted or allowed to recover so that it again provides wildlife habitat.
  
WHAT ARE NATIVE SPECIES BEST?
  
Native species are plants and trees that would have existed on a site prior to the influence of people. Native species are the best plantings to hoose for several reasons. First of all, they are most likely to survive in what may be somewhat harsh conditions within the first 100-300 feet from tidal waters. Second, they provide habitat for native wildlife. Third non-native often spread beyond planting area and overrun native species. Examples of these are Russian Olive and bamboo. The County has a brochure which is available to all property owners on native species and how to successfully complete plantings
  
SUMMARY
  
Whenever property owners have questions as to what they can or can not do on their property, the Department of Technical and Community services strongly encourages them to call the Department staff for assistance. Although the Buffer is a cornerstone of the Critical Area Program, it has been implemented in a practical way which recognizes that landowners will sometimes need to have exceptions in order to utilize and protect their property. It is our policy to try to work with citizens to meet the intent of the law and protect the Bay, rather that to issue citations and collect fines. If landowners understand what the Buffer is intended to do and why disturbing the buffer affects water quality, we beleive that they will observe law.
  
KEY ELEMENTS TO CONSIDER WHEN PLANNING YOUR BUFFER MAINTENANCE
  
Habitat value is enhanced if a tree canopy and understory are maintained.
  
Avoid taking down large trees unless thay are diseased.
  
Remove the invasive and noxious speciessuch as poison ivy with chemical spraying of approved herbicide or hand tools/pulling.
  
If material is placed on paths, natural materials such as wood chips are suggested, or paths with widely spaced wooden planks so that water can penetrate the ground.
  
Grading and alterations to the Buffer are not permitted without necessary permits.
  
Check to ensure that you do not need additional approvals from the forestry division of DNR when clearing in designated forest and developed woodland.
  
Replant in the Buffer whenever possible. Species can be chosen which will fit property owners' landscape plans and which will not obstruct the view.
  
Natural Buffer

Typical of Resource Conservation Area (RCA)
 
 
Naturally occurring forested buffers are the most desired, both for water quality and for habitat. The humus layer absorbs virtually all water falling on it. Even in a situation of heavy rain the sheet flow will be filtered and slowed considerably while crossing a forested buffer before going into natural watercourses. Sometimes the wooded buffer adjoins a body of water, ditch or stream, and sometimes there are tidal wetlands between it and open water.
 
Developed But Still Functioning Buffer
Typical of Limited Development Area (LDA)
 
 
Much of Somerset County's shoreline is tidal wetlands, however there are areas along the Pocomoke, Wicomico, Manokin, Little and Big Annemessex Rivers and their tributaries, as well the Tangier Sound where higher and sufficiently well drained soils are located in the Buffer. There are several existing nearly built out subdivisions in these settings, as well as newer one that are largely undeveloped.
 
Areas Where Buffer Is Providing Very Little Or No Function
Typical of Intensely Developed Areas (IDA)
 
 
Because of its largely rural nature Somerset County has very little intensely developed shoreline. The one exception to this is in the City of Crisfield, however as a separate jurisdiction, it has it's own Critical Area Program. There are a few locations as depicted above where the buffer really does not function as envisioned in the Critical Area Law. Often these areas are designated Buffer Management Areas. This designation allows for development in the Buffer but requires mitigation to enhance the Buffer.
 
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