tion of riparian habitat essential for federally protected endangered species is one example of this approach. Other examples are found in statewide programs that restrict certain types of activities on lands adjacent to waterbodies, such as the Massachusetts Rivers Protection Act and the New Hampshire Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act. Many states restrict timber harvesting on private lands adjacent to streams. In addition, many local communities use their land-use authority to limit new construction in streamside areas.

Fourth, incentives such as cost-sharing, low-cost loans, or tax reductions may be used to encourage good practices on private riparian areas, and special technical assistance and education may be used as well. At the national level, several Farm Bill programs provide incentives for moving intensive agricultural practices away from streams; several states have similar programs.

Fifth, privately owned riparian lands can be purchased—either in fee or by easement—for public management. The desirability of riparian areas for recreational use has prompted urban areas to acquire riparian lands for greenways (Smith and Hellmund, 1993). The remarkable growth in the number of land trusts in recent years has provided another vehicle for protection of private lands utilizing conservation easements. Federal—and an increasing number of state—tax laws provide incentives for landowners to donate such easements.

This chapter sets out the general legal and management frameworks that now apply to the protection of riparian areas. First reviewed are the federal, state, and local laws and programs directed, at least in part, to protect and restore essential functions and values of privately owned riparian lands. Both regulatory and nonregulatory approaches are discussed. Then, federal laws and policies applying to publicly owned riparian areas are presented, organized by category of federal public land. Next, laws governing the use of water resources are considered in relation to supporting riparian areas. Two federal programs that have significant potential to expand protection of riparian areas are given in-depth consideration. A final section considers the efficacy of the existing framework and evaluates the need for additions and changes.


Most riparian lands are in private ownership, especially in the eastern portion of the United States. The value of riparian lands to a private landowner most often is measured in terms of their economic benefits rather than their ecological functions. Private owners of riparian lands typically have only limited motivation to use these areas in a manner protective of their functions. In the absence of improved education about riparian functioning, legal strategies for protecting the ecological values of privately owned riparian lands must be based either on implementing regulatory requirements or on providing special incentives. Alternatively, such areas may be purchased for public ownership and management.

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