Riparian areas are defined as anything related to or located on a bank of a natural watercourse, such as a stream or river. Riparian areas are important to the health of any waterway, and that's why the NY Department of Environmental Conservation began their "Trees For Tribs" program.

This spring, the DEC, along with the Oatka Creek Watershed Committee, planted more than a thousand trees and shrubs along Oatka Creek in Genesee County.

"Trees and shrubs act as Mother Nature's filters and also help to regenerate ground water," explains Garrett Koplun, a NY DEC Forester. "Without them, there's going to be a lot more runoff, a lot more erosion, a lot more introduction of pollutants coming from our fields and roadways that would otherwise be free to flow into our water. So we'd have sediment problems. We'd have pollutant problems downstream, along the stream. It would affect the habitat for our wildlife, and it would affect our drinking water. It would affect commerce and boating on our waterways."

Riparian areas are critical to insect life, which in turn contribute to the health of the streams they border. Mammals also rely on riparian areas.

"These corridors provide a means for getting from one place to another without getting run over on a road, and a lot of the food for those animals I mentioned come from the stream itself. So, there's a lot of interconnections between the stream and the riparian area that surrounds it, the terrestrial part, the land part," said Peter Lent, Chair of the Oatka Creek Watershed Committee, whose group worked hand in hand with the DEC on this project.

Riparian areas are critical in maintaining the health of streams and rivers.
Riparian areas are critical in maintaining the health of streams and rivers.

Oatka Creek was chosen in part because of the destruction it has sustained from the Emerald Ash Borer. Koplun says the invasive insect has taken a heavy toll on the Ash trees surrounding the stream.

"What really brought us to this location was the disappearing Ash canopy along its banks. We're really starting to see die off, and most of the Ash in the area are beginning to die or have died already, so we're actually losing canopy, so it makes this location particularly interesting and important for a project like this," said Kaplan.

The program, which began in 2007, provides trees and shrubs to any qualified stream side land owners in the state. The DEC provides both trees and guidance. To date, volunteers have planted almost 70,000 trees and shrubs at 470 sites across New York.

"Volunteers were everything to this project," Koplun told 2 The Outdoors. "We were able to accomplish 1500 trees in a matter of about six, six and a half hours."

Lent believes the entire community benefits from their efforts. "Tree planting and improving the riparian corridor is really a win, win win, win, one of those multiple win situations."

Click here for more information on the Trees for Tribs program and details on how to take part.