A healthy, functioning riparian area and associated uplands dramatically increase benefits such as fish and wildlife habitat, erosion control, forage, late season streamflow, and water quality. Management decisions must be designed with these processes in mind.
An unhealthy system would have some or all these characteristics:
1.) Low water table and decreased storage capacity,
2.) Low forage production,
3.) Little shade-Warm water,
4.) Poor fish habitat-Poor water quality,
5.) Low wildlife habitat diversity
6.) Little vegetation & roots to help protect and stabilize banks,
7.) Reduced late summer stream flows.
A healthy system would have some or all these characteristics:
1.) High water table & increased storage capacity,
2.) High forage production,
3.) Good shade-Cool water,
4.) Good fish habitat-Good water quality,
5.) High wildlife habitat diversity,
6.) Vegetation & roots present to protect & stabilize banks,
7.) Higher late summer stream flows.
Because of the complexity of riparian zones devising proper grazing strategies is complicated. For example, under moderate, late season use, productivity and diversity of riparian meadows can be maintained. However, woody plant succession and growth on gravel bars could be hindered. Many grazing strategies fail to consider the proper length of the grazing period- this should be based on the areas cattle are actually using, not the entire area. For example, a study in northeastern Oregon showed that livestock preference and utilization was greatest (40-70%) for dry and moist meadows in late season grazing schemes. Willow-dominated gravel bars were intermediate in preferences with a utilization of 20-45% and the understory of mature cottonwood and alder communities were utilized at levels of less than 20%. Therefore, it is important to remember that management strategies should focus on the specific components of the ecosystem in need of restoration. It is recommended that these strategies be developed with interdisciplinary teams representing several disciplines. These would include, but not be limited to, range specialists, wildlife and or fisheries biologists, soil scientists, botanists, and foresters depending on the resources present in each area.
2.) Describe the relationships between ecological processes that must function for riparian recovery. Assess factors affecting present condition (i.e., management stress versus natural stress) and what conditions will be needed to allow the stream to resume natural functions. Human caused factors that are causing stream degradation must be identified and changed.
3.) Design attainable goals, objectives, and management activities that will achieve the desired future condition of the riparian/stream ecosystem.
4.) Implement the plan.
5.) Design and implement a monitoring plan that will evaluate management, and allow for management corrections or modifications, as necessary.
In the development of riparian grazing systems, managers need to consider the forage base available to livestock and animal behavior. The easiest riparian zone to work with is one that is large enough to be fenced and used as a separate pasture where total control of livestock entry and exit is possible. These cases are rare, but they exist; they provide significant forage base (pounds per acre of forage) and flexibility in an operation. Flexibility may come in the form of forage quality needed for animal gain when surrounding uplands have matured and dried, or early in the season when uplands are sensitive to grazing. The riparian zone herbaceous plants should have adequate soil moisture available for regrowth when grazed at this time whereas uplands may not. Where riparian zones are narrow and fencing into a specialized pasture is impractical, late summer use may be detrimental. When the uplands are dry and of poor forage quality, animals tend to congregate in riparian zones where there is green forage. Woody riparian shrubs may provide the protein lacking in dried upland grasses. Also, cattle hesitate to climb the hills in search of forage when temperatures are hot, particularly where upland water is not developed or is of poor quality. Non-traditional grazing times may also be considered. In areas of intermittent or no snow cover, winter grazing is possible. Adequate supplementation has to be provided to prevent excessive browsing on woody plants. Up-slope water should also be considered. Early spring use during peak run-off periods is yet another option. Grazing is restricted near the stream by high flows. If the pasture is only used in the spring, then regrowth occurring after grazing should be available the following spring along with new growth to provide adequate quality and quantity of forage. The riparian zone vegetation remains ungrazed and protective.
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