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Economic Impact Spotlight: Forest Buffer Effort Grows More Than Streamside Plantings

March 22, 2021 12:00 AM

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​In its simplest sense, DCNR’s Forest Buffer Program seeks to improve water quality by planting greenery along streams and rivers. But so much more goes into this widening effort than growing new trees, shrubs, and grasses.

Before these eventual streamside forests achieve their intended goal of filtering potential pollutants and fortifying streambanks against erosion, they need help. Lots of help.

Essential are the legions of volunteers answering the call to plant; the conservancies, contractors, and landowners supporting them; and DCNR, which aids all through grants and technical expertise.

And then there are the specialized local nurseries, supplying planting stock that will not only survive but thrive in its carefully selected environs.

The Forest Buffer Program grows more than streamside plantings, it nourishes the business of nurseries offering select stock.

Businesses like the Kirkwood, Lancaster County-based Octoraro Native Plant Nursery, where owner Jim MacKenzie points proudly to a 31-year history “of growing plants for sustainable landscapes and service to our customers.”

Business Has Longtime Ties With DCNR

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Trees from Octoraro Native Plant Nursery wait to be planted

He’s also proud of his longtime association with DCNR.

“The biggest thing is our mission is aligned lock, stock, and barrel,” MacKenzie said.

“We are trying to do all the same things that DCNR is trying to do -- preserve and protect the air, the land, and water. These are the core values of DCNR’s people and that it is why it’s so easy to coordinate with them -- because of these shared values.”

Helping MacKenzie preserve and protect are 40 to 50 employees and nursery stock for buffer plantings numbering close to 100 species.

Trees that carry the label red maple, sycamore, swamp and pin oak, river birch, and basswood.

And shrubs: smooth alder, silky dogwood, holly, spicebush, and witch hazel.

In years past, Octoraro trees and shrubs greeted visitors to DCNR exhibits at the Philadelphia Flower Show and home and garden shows at Harrisburg’s Farm Show Building.

The department and nursery have been spreading the same message together for more than three decades.

“I am a big fan of DCNR and all the work that it does and it is a pleasure to work with them,” said MacKenzie, 56. “Yes, we are in the business of selling plants but we all have to work at this together. It’s representative of what these plants can do for the state of Pennsylvania when teamed up with dedicated individuals and the values of an organization for what has been well over 30 years.”

Nurseryman Draws Praise from DCNR Staff

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Riparian forest buffer planting

DCNR staff members who have worked closely with MacKenzie on past buffer planting projects are quick to repay compliments:

“Jim is a tremendous asset to the work we do. He has worked with a number of partners on buffer, meadow, and restoration projects. He’s a champion for defending our funding sources and his business model is based on water conservation, water quality, reuse, and soil conservation.” -- Policy Director Nicole Faraguna

“All the contractors I’ve spoken with speak highly of Jim and his dedication to his work and helping others. He is helping sustain a successful and reputable nursery industry and train future generations for work in the field...” -- Executive Policy Specialist Shea Zwerver

“Jim is awesome! He really supports our work; has presented at and sponsored buffer summits; has presented at our Riparian Forest Buffer Advisory Committees; and much more. Our partners frequently use his business to get buffer stock, and he’s committed to growing great stuff for restoration plantings.” -- Watershed Forestry Program Manager Teddi Stark

Buffer Plantings Protecting Chesapeake Bay Watershed

West Branch of ths Susquehanna River

On the smaller scale, DCNR’s Forest Buffers Program helps local groups plant streamside forests.

On the much larger, it is the culmination of thousands of hands coming together to help and protect the Chesapeake Bay with a lifeline that stretches northward from the Maryland state line well into Pennsylvania Wilds territory.

Consider this recent project in northcentral Pennsylvania showing what the program can achieve: Western Pennsylvania Conservancy received $45,000 from DCNR’s Environmental Stewardship Fund to plant 15 acres of streamside forest in the Kettle Creek Watershed.

Kettle Creek’s water flows into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and eventually reaches the Chesapeake Bay.

The conservancy matched DCNR funding with more than $55,000 to plant 1,200 trees and 1,400 shrubs.

Since the program’s start in 2016, DCNR has provided $5.3 million to plant streamside forests in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. That translates into an awful lot of planting stock being purchased from private nursery businesses like Octoraro Native Plant Nursery.

It also demonstrates how DCNR’s programs, state forests, and state parks supply income to businesses -- both large and small -- often in areas where it is needed most.

Travel our public lands and you’ll find praise abounds for private businesses and contractors -- the men and women who supply nursery stock, erect new buildings, pave roads, repair dams, and tackle a myriad of other projects.

And, there are many.

DCNR Projects, Facilities Feed Local Economies

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Lyman Run State Park dam

Value of DCNR infrastructure is more than $4 billion. It includes 131dams, 820 bridges, more than 4,800 buildings, 68 wastewater treatment plants, 172 public water systems, and 3,411 miles of roads.

From all these holdings come one heck of a lot of jobs -- in repairs and construction, paving, roofing, culvert work, and so on.

Since December 1, 2019, DCNR has awarded about $37 million in construction contracts.

It would be accurate to say DCNR typically executes $35 to $40 million in construction contracts each year.

Generally, the department spends $24-25 million in Keystone funds; $20-25 million in capital bond projects; and $15-16 million in Environmental Stewardship Funds.

The last -- Environmental Stewardship Funds -- primarily supplies the grants fueling buffer plantings which, in turn, bring trade and income to businesses like Octoraro Native Plant Nursery.

Here at 6126 Street Road, Kirkwood, owner MacKenzie lets it be known he grows and sells “only native trees and shrubs.”

The nursery website states something else: “Years ago we made the following statement: ‘As we look ahead, our goals remain simple and steadfast: to provide exceptional plants and quality, personal service to our customers.’ Much has changed in the past 31 years, but not these words and what they represent.”

A graduate of The Pennsylvania State University with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture, MacKenzie is actively involved with the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association, serving previously on its board of directors 13 years and presently on its Government Relations Committee.

From 2003 until 2008 he served as vice-chair of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Statewide Water Resources Committee.

MacKenzie lives with his wife, Kathleen, in Oxford.

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