15 years (Cummins and Dahm, 1995; Dahm et al., 1995; Toth et al., 1998). The goal of this long-term project is to reestablish 104 km2 of river-floodplain ecosystem and return a more normal hydrograph to the river. These ambitious and expensive projects represent historic initiatives in ecosystem restoration; however, they are a small part of the challenges that remain in restoring rivers and riparian areas throughout the United States.
Because degradation of riparian areas varies in areal extent, severity, and proximity to streams and other waterbodies, attempts at restoring these areas will entail more than simply understanding the workings of a narrow strip of land along a stream, river, or other body of water. Upslope and upriver land uses must necessarily be considered. Understanding the watershed context is often essential in undertaking restoration efforts that are targeted at improving streamside areas (Kershner, 1997). Unfortunately, although watersheds as geographic areas are “optimal organizing units” for dealing with the management of water and related resources such as riparian areas (NRC, 1999), the natural boundaries of watersheds (and their riparian systems) rarely coincide with legal and political boundaries. City, county, state, and federal jurisdictions provide a mélange of authorities across the landscape. Thus, comprehensive watershed approaches to riparian restoration, by necessity, will need to involve numerous landowners, a cross section of political and institutional representations, and coalitions of special interest groups.
Strategies and practices that reflect a spectrum of goals will likely be needed for maintaining and improving the ecological functions of existing riparian areas and for improving their sustainability and productivity for future generations. This section identifies several broad management approaches that have different objectives and expected outcomes.
Protection (also referred to as preservation or maintenance) of intact riparian areas is of great importance, both environmentally and economically. It is distinct from restoration, which addresses degraded systems. Intact riparian areas represent valuable reference sites for understanding the goals and the efficacy of various restoration approaches and other management efforts. In some cases they are important sources of genetic material for the reintroduction of native biota into areas in need of restoration. For these reasons and others, riparian areas in a natural state warrant a high level of protection (NRC, 1992, 1995; Kauffman et al., 1997).
As a management strategy, riparian protection may entail more than simply preventing human-induced alterations. For example, actions such as prescribed