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Individual Highlight

Quantifying the effects of deer and elk on riparian plantings installed to improve salmon habitat

Photo of Exclosures protect riparian plantings from browsing by deer and elk at Starkey Experimental Forest and Range, Oregon. Exclosures protect riparian plantings from browsing by deer and elk at Starkey Experimental Forest and Range, Oregon. Snapshot : Researchers evaluated elk and mule deer impacts on deciduous woody riparian plantings along Meadow Creek, a steelhead- and Chinook salmon-bearing stream in the Starkey Experimental Forest and Range in Oregon. Findings are used to justify additional costs and designs for protecting planted shrubs from wild ungulate herbivory as part of riparian restoration for salmon.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Rowland, Mary M. 
Research Location : Starkey Experimental Forest and Range; Oregon
Research Station : Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW)
Year : 2017
Highlight ID : 1348

Summary

Riparian restoration for threatened and endangered salmon is a billion-dollar endeavor in the Pacific Northwest. Restoration efforts often include planting stream-side vegetation to shade and cool the streams and stabilize streambanks. These new plantings make tasty treats for domestic and wild ungulates, such as cattle and deer. In fact, ungulate herbivory can exert strong influences on riparian woody vegetation establishment, yet little is known about how herbivory by wild ungulate affects riparian restoration in the absence of cattle. Researchers evaluated elk and mule deer impacts on deciduous woody riparian plantings along 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) of Meadow Creek, a steelhead- and Chinook salmon-bearing stream in the Starkey Experimental Forest and Range in northeastern Oregon. This study was one facet of the larger Meadow Creek Restoration Research Project. The study found that wild ungulate herbivory can impede riparian restoration along streams by suppressing woody plant establishment and recovery. Herbivory resulted in survival rates below regional agency criteria (50 percent) for restoration success after two growing seasons. This means strategic management of wild ungulates to minimize impacts in riparian areas, and protection of riparian plantings from herbivory, are important considerations in riparian restoration for steelhead and salmon. Fisheries biologists and land managers can use these results to justify additional and more effective protection of plantings from herbivory by deer and elk as part of riparian restoration practices to meet population recovery goals for threatened and endangered salmonids. This information also can help state fisheries biologists charged with improving and restoring habitat for endangered salmonids understand the impacts of wild ungulates like elk on the efficacy of restoration plantings.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Oregon State University
  • Wallowa-Whitman National Forest