science and by frustration with the jurisdictional and programmatic piece-mealing of the landscape (Natural Resources Law Center, 1996). Although watershed groups form because of some specific, broadly shared concern, protection of riparian areas has not, by itself, been a primary or common focus. Rather, such things as improvement of water quality and protection of a fishery have been the motivating factors (Kenney et al., 2000). Yet it is precisely because of their important role in achieving many distinct objectives, such as healthy fish and wildlife habitat or floodplain management, that protection and restoration of riparian areas should be approached on a watershed scale, even though this may increase the complexity and timeline of the project.

Box 5-2 presents two examples of where riparian area management was incorporated into larger watershed management efforts. In the first case (the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area), it was recognized that restoration of the riparian area would not succeed without a more holistic understanding of the causes of degradation—most of which are outside the riparian area. In the second case (the Model Watershed Project in Idaho), activities in the riparian area were determined to be critical to achieving the overall goals of watershed management.


For decision-makers to be effective in managing riparian areas, they need information on the status and condition of these areas. The identification of riparian areas is a first step in accumulating information about their quantity and quality. Where they have been highly degraded, it may be difficult to identify riparian areas by remote sensing or even ground-based surveys. It is similarly difficult to identify wetlands that have been effectively drained. Yet their recognition is important precisely because former wetland areas are among the best opportunities for restoration. The same principle applies to riparian areas.

A wide variety of tools are available for assessing the condition of riparian areas. The assessment tool chosen will depend on the objectives of the program for which it is to be applied. For example, a program designed to identify priority areas for restoration might find useful a large-scale watershed assessment approach, such as the Hydrogeologic Equivalence or the Synoptic Approach discussed below. These approaches generally consider the existing condition of all riparian areas, the cumulative length of the various stream orders, and longitudinal connections that are necessary for migrations of fish and other organisms. For smaller-scale projects such as restoration of a reach of riparian corridor, knowledge is needed about what types of vegetation should be planted, the appropriate channel capacity for the stream, and the width of the riparian area necessary for carrying out various functions. In tracking the progress of individual restoration projects, detailed information on hydrology, seedling survival, and animal recruitment might become components of an assessment.

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