Responsible Shoreland Management

As a lakefront homeowner, we have the responsibility to understand that what we do on the land and in the water affects the health of our lakes.  Increased pressure on lakes has deteriorated water quality, which impacts not only homeowners, but also wildlife that depends on healthy ecosystems.  Responsible shoreland management results in healthier lakes which benefits recreational activities on lakes, property values and ecosystem functions.  We can practice responsible shoreland management with sustainable choices such as nature-based solutions.  Nature-based solutions such as vegetative shoreland buffers can mitigate the adverse effects of shoreland development.  

You can practise responsible shoreland management by incorporating a vegetated shoreland buffer on your property [1].  The shoreland is made up of the littoral, riparian and upland zone, and it functions most effectively when all these zones have native vegetation. It is common to interpret littoral plants as “weeds, as we may have been taught that they are an inconvenience and nuisance for lake activities.  The negative societal perception of aquatic plants is detrimental to lake health because littoral plants are just as valuable to lakes, as trees are to forests.  Plants in the littoral and riparian zone provide shade and shelter for fish, insects, and other wildlife; all of which contribute to a healthy and well-functioning lake ecosystem.  Shoreland vegetation also acts as a filter for stormwater run-off by trapping nutrients and chemicals before they reach the lake.  Additionally, the strong root system of native plants absorbs nutrients and water, while also stabilizing the soil which prevents erosion.  Your shoreland will continue to reap more benefits for your lake community as your vegetative buffer grows in size.              

Removing natural vegetation on the shorelands of lakes will destabilize lake ecosystems [1].  Shoreland alterations such as retention walls, sandy beaches and manicured lawns offer only short-term solutions and can lead to long-lasting negative impacts on your lake.  Altered shorelands often increase erosion, which will cause the banks to collapse or wash away due to wave action.  Further, more silt will enter the water, covering fish spawning beds and killing bottom dwelling aquatic life.  Altered shorelands will increase run-off into lakes such as chemicals and nutrients that would have otherwise been absorbed by shoreland plants.  The shoreland is often referred to as the ‘ribbon of life’ because of the important role this ecosystem has for many species. Unfortunately, shoreland development destroys this valuable habitat for fish and wildlife.  Altered shorelands are expensive to install and maintain, and are bound to collapse over time.  Fortunately, altered shorelands can be restored!

Responsible shoreland management is the result of homeowner choices and actions.  Shoreland renaturalization is less expensive than installing or maintaining altered shorelands (with the help of many community grants).  Shoreland vegetative buffers are easy to maintain because native plants have evolved to thrive in local climate conditions, soil types and with certain animals [1].  Remember, the cottage is a place to escape the chores of everyday life, and lawn maintenance doesn’t need to be on the ‘to-do’ list when native plants are involved.  The Land Between and Watersheds Canada offers support in designing shoreland gardens and natural edges through workshops and home visits.  As a property owner, you can opt to plant native species, or create a ‘no-mow’ zone to allow your lawn to renaturalize.  We also recommend lightly pruning instead of completely removing trees when you’re seeking a better view of your lake.  Above all else, let nature do its thing!  Without human intervention, habitats will begin to develop on their own across all zones of your shoreland. As the homeowner, you can choose to leave rocks, fallen trees and logs, which will aid your shoreland through erosion control and result in more habitat for wildlife. 

Most importantly, think about how you can live in harmony with your lake instead of fighting against it to suit your needs.  Once all lakefront homeowners acknowledge and practice this harmonious lifestyle, we can be confident that our lakes and future generations will want to thank us.       

Looking to learn more?  Check out these resources: 

Caring For Shoreline Properties 

Responsible Shoreline Development 

Protecting your Property while promoting healthy shorelines  

Healthy shorelines in Muskoka 

Ecological Buffer Guideline Review, produced by Beacon Environmental Ltd. for Credit Valley Conservation

How to Engage Community in a Lake Plan, produced by Watersheds Canada

Management Recommendations for Washington's Priority Habitats, produced by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Planning for Our Shorelands, by Christopher Dennison at Watersheds Canada

Review and Analysis of Existing Approaches for Managing Shoreline Development on Inland Lakes, produced by Hutchinson Environmental Sciences Ltd.

Wetland and Stream Buffer Size Requirements - A Review, written by A. J. Castelle, A. W. Johnson, and C. Conolly

Works Cited 

[1] Valastin, P. (1999). Caring for Shoreline Properties: Changing the Way We Look at Owning Lakefront Property in Alberta.  Alberta Conservation Association.  Retrieved from

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