The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Three Ways to Look at Streamside Buffers

Posted by | July 29, 2014

Bruce Read, chairman of the Laudholm Trust board of directors, addresses the group assembled for A Watershed Moment in June 2014Three angles of investigation into three waterways flowing through three municipalities have reached one encouraging conclusion: The Merriland River, Branch Brook, and the Little River are ecologically healthy and the people largely responsible, those living in the combined watershed, know and appreciate it.

The design for our Sustaining Coastal Landscapes and Community Benefits project, the first study of its kind, drew from the sciences of ecology, economy, and communications. Reserve staff and their colleagues from Clark University looked at streamside buffers in Sanford, Kennebunk, and Wells to find out how they affect life in the water and how members of the community value them.

Ecology: What’s in the Water?

Working with a fyke net in Branch BrookThe reserve’s science team studied forested and partially open streamside buffers along both the Merriland River and Branch Brook. They surveyed fish and macroinvertebrates (“bugs”), measured several water quality indicators, and evaluated habitats within the 250-foot shoreland buffer zone.

After crunching the numbers, they found the unexpected: No difference between forested and partially open areas. While initially surprising, a ready explanation is that the watershed, as a whole, remains in good condition. It is well forested, with “disturbed” sites retaining many of their environmentally positive qualities.

Economy: What’s it Worth?

Economics is not just about money, says Dr. Robert Johnston of Clark University, it’s about value — one’s willingness to exchange one thing for another. This study aimed to reveal how people value streamside buffers.

Graph: Protecting water quality earned universal support from respondents in a survey of nearly 3,500 households in Wells, Kennebunk, and Sanford done by Clark University last fall.Johnston’s mail-in survey, “Choices for Our Land and Water,” was painstakingly developed over 3 years to ensure its success. Survey packets were delivered to 3,472 households in Kennebunk, Wells, and Sanford last fall and nearly one third — 1,126 — were returned. That in itself means something: This topic is important to people.

Through the survey, Johnston learned “people really care about water quality” and, on average, are willing to invest in greater setbacks from waterways to maintain the benefits of a healthy watershed.

Communication: What Did You Say?

For the communications component of this project, Clark University’s Dr. Verna DeLauer pooled and parsed a series of interviews with selected community members. DeLauer’s approach (“I study what people say”) combined research, experience, and a dose of intuition to determine what values underlie people’s water policy preferences. By identifying how people perceive issues surrounding streamside buffers, she was able to recommend ways to talk about the subject that should resonate with people living in the watershed.

Next Steps

Sustaining Coastal Landscapes and Community Benefits kicked off in 2010 and wraps up this fall. The research team revealed results from each study during a workshop and presentation in June and now must integrate their findings — technically for ecologists, economists, and communicators; accessibly for survey participants and the communities at large.

While publications and outreach are still a few months off, the takeaway from this investigation of ecology, policy choice, and personal values is good news for residents and municipal officials:

  • You are not alone; your values are shared.
  • You and your neighbors have kept this watershed in good condition.
  • You want to keep it that way and are willing to make fair tradeoffs.

We’re with you.

This article is adapted from Watermark 31(1): Summer 2014

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