RAPID STREAM RIPARIAN ASSESSMENT PROTOCOL

problem

In the Intermountain West, riparian areas are perhaps the single most important ecosystems on which to focus conservation and restoration efforts due to the critical habitat they provide. Although riparian areas represent less than one percent of the land within Utah, they are among the most heavily used by wildlife in this water limited region. Animals including migratory songbirds, deer, elk and amphibians rely on these riparian corridors for food, cover, breeding habitat, and movement corridors. Riparian areas also provide many important functions and ecosystem services to humans, from recreation to providing clean and abundant water, to preventing flooding. Due to increasing pressure from human populations and improper land management strategies, it is possible that most Utah riparian areas fail to meet the needs of wildlife and few are safe to drink from today. The Bureau or Land Management, which manages about half of Utah's lands, reported that 35% of their Utah streams could endure a high flow without excessive erosion. This same report found that 30% of these same streams were functioning 'at risk' while the condition of 27% of streams was unknown. Missing from this report was information on stream function required for fish, riparian obligate birds, and other dependent wildlife. 

Solution

While most land managers are aware of the problems riparian areas face on the Colorado Plateau, they have yet to complete surveys that describe which streams meet wildlife needs and which do not. For restoration and protection efforts to succeed, we first need a clear understanding of the current biological health of each stream. Wild Utah Project and partners' development of the Rapid Stream-Riparian Assessment method has, provided a critical tool to aid the restoration and protection process. In 2000, Wild Utah Project began to develop and test in a number of communities an effective, stakeholder-friendly and scientifically rigorous method to assess the biological health of streams. Prior to our assessment method, nothing like this existed and as a result, specific information on stream health in our region was incomplete, hampering restoration of those streams in need.  Moreover, because our riparian assessment method makes common sense and can be conducted by community members with only a couple of days of training, we discovered that this inventory tool was an excellent educational platform for illustrating the effects of specific stream conditions on wildlife and stream health.  Today, with a proven tool, Wild Utah Project and our partners are applying the Rapid Stream Riparian Assessment method in communities across the Colorado Plateau, and using the results to inform riparian management solutions.

Dr. Peter Stacey, lead author of the RSRA protocol, leading one of the many trianings we have hosted in the last 10 years

Dr. Peter Stacey, lead author of the RSRA protocol, leading one of the many trianings we have hosted in the last 10 years