In 2013, the USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (PFW) partnered with Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD) to incorporate marketable Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs), or native fruit and nut trees and shrubs like pawpaws and elderberries, into riparian buffer enhancement projects. Since then, 8 acres of multifunctional agroforestry riparian buffers have been established within the Clinch, Holston and Powell River watersheds of Southwest Virginia. Prior to project implementation, conservation partners observed that many landowners were hesitant to establish riparian buffers using traditional hardwood trees, in fear of losing valuable, arable farmland for agriculture and livestock use. Based on our project experience in these watersheds, participating landowners have embraced the practice and are actively engaged in our NTFP program as well as promoting the practice to their neighbors and friends. Our program now has a waiting list of landowners who would like to participate and we are seeking funding sources to grow our NTFP program over the next few years. Our partnership continues to grow, with collaboration through existing conservation programs in the watershed.
Riparian NTFP buffers are an innovative approach to conservation because they have the potential to promote water resource protection along with economic development in rural communities. Since NTFPs can be harvested and sold for profit or used for self-consumption, they serve as an innovative alternative to both traditional agricultural practices and conservation approaches. At the same time, since only their fruit and nuts are harvested, they maintain their conservational integrity by: stabilizing the streambank and reducing sediment erosion; filtering pollution run-off; providing shade that reduces heat pollution, increasing flood resiliency, and enhancing wildlife food and habitat. In this sense, multifunctional agroforestry riparian buffers provide a “win-win” situation for both the enhancement and protection of a watershed and the economic viability of a landowner. The proven result is increased riparian buffer adoption.