Measuring tape, plant ID books and aerial photographs of your farm are useful tools when assessing the health of your riparian area
The following is a list of indicators that will help to identify parts of riparian areas that may be unhealthy. By identifying areas that are unhealthy on your land you can prioritize the implementation of different best management practices, such as setbacks and buffers and limiting livestock access.
Stream banks and Channel: In the water, and the shore
Has the riparian zone vegetation been cleared?
Are stream banks poorly vegetated with areas of bare soil? How much of the riparian area is covered by vegetation? Can you see any bare soil?
Is the stream channel eroding?
If the stream bank is steep some erosion will occur naturally along the outside of the stream curve. Is erosion occurring on the outside of stream curves, or along the inside? Can you see any areas where soil is entering the water? Is the stream channel becoming wide and flat? Are stream banks unstable or falling in to the channel?
Is only sandy or coarse textured soil available on the stream banks for plant establishment?
It is difficult for plants to establish on this type of soil
Is there extensive hoof damage to stream banks? Are there ruts in the stream bank from vehicles or trail use?
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Is the stream unable to overflow its banks during annual spring runoff or heavy rain events? (Annual flooding is beneficial to the riparian zone)
It is natural for streams to breach their banks during times of heavy rain, for example in the spring. This does not, however, refer to extreme flooding.
Do stream crossings for livestock or equipment cause siltation problems (clouding the water) and/or restrict fish passage (physical barrier)?
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Vegetation: Look at the plants on the stream bank
- Is the buffer strip between the riparian zone and cultivated lands narrow (less than 10 meters)?
- Is plant vigour poor?
- Has grazing removed almost all of the palatable vegetation
- Are wetland species being replaced by drought tolerant upland species?
- Do palatable trees and shrubs appear to be heavily browsed by livestock?
- Are all the trees old and/or of poor health (as opposed to being various sizes and ages)?
- Do stands of trees have an open, “park-like” appearance?
It is good to have a diversity of species, including shrub species. Grasses are not as adept at maintaining bank structure and increases the riparian area’s risk to erosion
- Have trees and shrubs been eliminated from sites (where they should be present)?
- Are desirable plants being replaced by unpalatable or undesirable types?
- Is woody vegetation present and maintaining itself?
- Preferred trees and shrubs are established and regenerating?
Weeds and grasses have shallower roots than woody species, and are therefore not as capable of controlling erosion.