Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Natural Resources

First Advisor

Kristine Stepenuck

Second Advisor

Joshua Faulkner


The rapid pollution of surface waters by sediment and nutrients is one of the most pervasive water quality problems worldwide. Forested riparian buffers, or designated strips of native trees and shrubs along waterways, are an effective conservation practice. They are used to stabilize soil, reduce erosion, and filter nutrient pollution. Farmers are encouraged to implement forested riparian buffers, yet to accomplish this, portions of pasture and cropland are often taken out of agricultural production. Forested riparian buffer implementation tends to be heavily influenced by government conservation programs that provide farmers with financial incentives. This study explored forested riparian buffer adoption and farmer attitudes toward the conservation practice. I conducted interviews with a random sample of eighteen dairy, livestock, crop, and vegetable farmers from Vermont’s Lake Champlain basin between January and March 2023. The data suggested that the presence or absence of forested riparian buffers on a farm was not indicative of the farmer’s attitude toward the practice. Half of the farmers in this study believed that the practice was not compatible with their land, and that a prerequisite for buffer implementation was either the presence of a major waterway, an active resource concern like erosion, or a large farm size. I recommend that watershed practitioners and agricultural advisors increase their educational outreach to farmers on the benefits of forested riparian buffers on smaller, headwater streams. This study also investigated farmer attitudes toward the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), a federal-state partnership program that provides farmers financial and technical assistance to convert portions of their pasture or cropland to buffer. Half of the farmers were generally in favor of CREP, although there was a disconnect between farmers’ attitudes and willingness to enroll. Fourteen out of the eighteen farmers brought up concerns with taking farmland out of production to implement forested riparian buffers through CREP. Studies have shown that successful natural resource management efforts are dependent on a level of trust between landowners and government agencies. Farmers’ voluntary enrollment in government conservation programs may be influenced by their trust in government agencies. In this study, I hypothesized that farmers with higher trust in government agencies would be more likely to feel positively toward those agencies’ conservation programs. I had farmers rate their trust in the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), and Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM), as well as the United States federal and Vermont state government broadly. I found that farmer trust in these agencies was not associated with their attitudes toward the government conservation programs. Program environmental impact, payments, technicalities, and requirements were identified by farmers as potential motivations and barriers to enrollment. Staff technical assistance, staff turnover and retention, and regulations were identified as some of the largest benefits and drawbacks of the agencies. Future research should explore what specific actions government agencies can take to build trust with farmers, and whether trust building efforts increase the positivity of farmer attitudes toward agencies, as well as their willingness to enroll in government conservation programs.



Number of Pages

136 p.

Available for download on Saturday, October 17, 2026