Table 4-3 summarizes the many regulatory and nonregulatory approaches used by the states to address protection of privately owned riparian areas. The extreme variation in approaches is remarkable. A significant limitation of many of the approaches is that their success is measured by the number of practices implemented and rarely by actual environmental improvements. For example, the National Conservation Buffer Initiative, the goal of which is to install 2 million miles of new riparian and upland buffers by 2002, is being touted as a means of improving water quality. Rather than requiring the collection of water-quality data to determine if water quality is actually improving, program success is measured by counting the “number of miles of buffers installed.” The program has no systematic and scientific means of targeting efforts to the riparian areas that would most protect water quality.

Such indirect metrics of success are typical of state and federal conservation programs, and they are partially justifiable given the ease with which such measurements can be made. Indeed, actually measuring improvements in water quality and habitat may take decades, given the lag time between implementation of restoration activities and riparian system response. To convince policy makers and the public that progress is being made—even if there is no measurable improvement in water or habitat quality—these indirect measures are often used. Because of these uncertain metrics, and because many restoration programs are relatively new, it is difficult to know whether the federal, state, and local programs described above have been or will be effective in restoring structure and functioning to riparian areas on privately owned land.


Nearly 40 percent of the land area of the United States is in public ownership, primarily federal (Figure 4-2). In 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court in Light v. United States stated: “All of the [federal] public lands of the nation are held in trust for the people of the whole country.” Congress can legislate to protect the public lands or any of the components thereof (e.g., wildlife, water, vegetation, or other resources) and to provide for the use, management, or disposal of the lands or their contained resources. States retain broad police powers over federal lands, subject to the federal government’s power to preempt any state law that conflicts with a federal law or regulation. For example, states retain general authority to set hunting and fishing seasons and limits. Although only Congress may establish federal land policy, administrative agencies have extremely broad latitude to determine and conduct the day-to-day management of federal lands and resources (United States v. Grimaud, 1911).

All laws governing federal lands potentially affect riparian areas on those lands. Very few federal statutes, however, provide expressly for riparian area

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