After a year of work, a special Bay Program panel has concluded that "a sound foundation of scientific study" supports the idea that "riparian forest buffers provide the greatest range of environmental benefits of any buffer type," and it is proceeding with its task of making recommendations for a Chesapeake Bay forest buffer policy by next fall.

The Chesapeake Executive Council, at its 1995 meeting, had directed that a special Riparian Forest Buffer Panel be created to review issues related to streamside forests and recommend a forest buffer policy with restoration goals to the Council by its 1996 meeting.

The panel, which has more than 30 members representing local governments, state and federal agencies, developers, farmers, foresters and other interested parties, issued an interim report at this year's meeting.

Virginia State Forester James Garner, who chairs the panel, stressed to the Council that the final policy will offer a flexible approach for states, local governments and landowners to go about riparian forest protection and restoration. "We will put together a framework so the people and the private groups can do what they do so well, and that is solve problems and create partnerships," he said.

The role of riparian forests has been seen as increasingly important in recent years because they can improve water quality by filtering runoff and groundwater as well as improving in-stream habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms.

The panel has been meeting with various "stakeholder" groups in recent months to discuss issues related to the forest buffer policy.

The next two meetings are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Jan. 16 at the Maryland Department of Agriculture, to focus on agricultural programs, and 9:30 a.m. Feb. 13 at a place yet to be determined to focus on forestry and silvaculture issues.

All meetings are open to the public. For information on the meetings, contact the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, (410) 377-6270.

For a copy of the panel's interim report, call the Chesapeake Bay Program Office, 1-800-968-7229.