America's Forests
1999 Health UpdateOverview MapIntroduction
Issues and Examples of Forest Ecosystem Health Concerns
VI. Degraded Riparian Areas

High-quality riparian areas trap sediments; slow runoff; and provide cooling shade and excellent habitat for wildlife, fish, and plants—including many threatened and endangered plant and animal species. Degraded riparian areas lose many of these functions. Productive riparian areas often become degraded as a result of many public land uses—forage for livestock, recreation, mining, roads, and railroads. Recent surveys show that only 37 percent of grassland riparian areas currently meet national forest plan objectives. Overall, close to 50 percent of the riparian areas in both forest and grasslands need aggressive management.


Degradation of Southwestern Riparian Areas—Over 65 percent of southwestern animals depend on riparian (streamside) habitats during all or part of their life cycles, and thousands of southwestern residents use these areas for recreation and agriculture. Riparian area structure and composition have changed due to irrigation diversions, reservoirs, farming, grazing, and human settlement. Consequently, some species diversity has been lost and channel functions—such as sediment transport—have changed. The spread of saltcedar (tamarisk) and other exotic woody ornamentals—such as Russian-olive and Siberian elm—has resulted in the creation of new plant communities with mixes of native and exotic overstory species. The presence of saltcedar, a heavy water-using plant, has resulted in drier riparian systems, prevented some native plants from reestablishing, and reduced bird species richness and abundance. Overall, more than half of the riparian areas in this region fail to meet desired condition goals. Concerns over the southwestern willow flycatcher, an endangered species, and appeals and litigation over riparian-related issues have curtailed management of riparian areas on National Forest System lands. The USDA Forest Service, other Federal agencies, and cooperators are working through partnerships to address many of these riparian concerns.

Riparian degradation and restoration in the Southwest
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