• document the impacts to riparian areas from humans and assess present-day riparian acreage,

  • evaluate methods that assess the condition of riparian areas,

  • suggest improved management of riparian areas on forested, agricultural, and developed land (including strategies for complete ecological restoration of riparian areas as well as partial functioning to reflect various objectives), and

  • explore the myriad federal, state, and local laws, regulations, policies, and guidance documents affecting riparian areas.

As outlined below, the NRC committee reached several overarching conclusions and recommendations intended to heighten awareness of riparian areas commensurate with their ecological and societal values. More detailed conclusions and recommendations are found in this summary and throughout the report.

Restoration of riparian functions along America’s waterbodies should be a national goal. Over the last several decades, federal and state programs have increasingly focused on the need for maintaining or improving water quality, ensuring the sustainability of fish and wildlife species, protecting wetlands, and reducing the impacts of flood events. Because riparian areas perform a disproportionate number of biological and physical functions on a unit area basis, their restoration can have a major influence on achieving the goals of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and flood damage control programs.

Protection should be the goal for riparian areas in the best ecological condition, while restoration is needed for degraded riparian areas. Management of riparian areas should give first priority to protecting those areas in natural or nearly natural condition from future alterations. The restoration of altered or degraded areas could then be prioritized in terms of their relative potential value for providing environmental services and/or the cost effectiveness and likelihood that restoration efforts would succeed. Where degradation has occurred—as it has in many riparian areas throughout the United States—there are vast opportunities for restoring functioning to these areas.

Patience and persistence in riparian management is needed. The current degraded status of many riparian areas throughout the country represents the cumulative, long-term effects of numerous, persistent, and often incremental impacts from a wide variety of land uses and human alterations. Substantial time (years to decades) will be required for improving and restoring the functions of many degraded riparian areas. Commensurate with restoration must be efforts to improve society’s understanding of what riparian functions have been lost and what can be recovered.

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