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Riparian Areas: Functions and Strategies for Management
Regardless of the science-based tools used to assess riparian condition, the output from these evaluations must be implemented through policies that take into account both environmental and socioeconomic issues. Decision-makers are usually faced with a number of competing values, of which goods and services derived from riparian areas are only one of many. Unless the output from riparian assessment tools can be placed into this broader context, there is little likelihood that the resulting information will be helpful. Consequently, users of the information should be determined before the assessments are interpreted.
This section discusses management strategies for restoring the hydrologic regime, geomorphic structure, and vegetation characteristic of riparian areas. Although the scientific basis for restoring riparian areas has rapidly expanded in the last couple of decades, the implementation of restoration practices is in its infancy. In addition, there is much to be learned socially and institutionally about opportunities and limitations for improving these important systems. Nonetheless, some generalities can be made about the appropriateness and effectiveness of certain management strategies. Perhaps most important is that the range of possible restoration activities is broad, from simple activities at a single site to large-scale projects. In many cases, relatively easy things can be done to improve the condition of riparian areas, such as planting vegetation, removing small flood-control structures, or reducing or removing a stressor such as grazing or forestry. Where the objective of restoration is to improve the entire river system, more holistic watershed approaches will be necessary, and management strategies such as removing impediments (e.g., large dams) to the natural hydrologic regime may be required. There are few examples of these larger-scale activities having been conducted with the expressed purpose of restoring riparian areas.
The discussion of management approaches that follows is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather illustrative of how significant ecological improvement of riparian systems might be attained. Some of these strategies will be more passive, some more active, and others a blend of both passive and active approaches. In all examples, successful restoration appears to be based on extensive local knowledge of hydrology and ecology including the range of natural variability, disturbance regimes, soils and landforms, and vegetation; on understanding the history of resource development; and on identifying reference sites. Because restoration is not a deterministic process for which the outcome can necessarily be predicted with high temporal or spatial resolution, it might appropriately be considered a journey involving riparian systems and societal goals, with both evolving over time.