Lush vegetation and access to water make riparian areas attractive to cattle, elk, and deer.Stubble height of vegetation, streambank alteration, and use of woody species are standard indicators to monitor and manage livestock impacts on riparian areas in the western United States. Effects of wild ungulates, such as elk and deer, on riparian conditions often are not monitored and assumed to be represented by indicators developed for livestock. Researchers with the Forest Service and Oregon State University tested this assumption by evaluating effects of elk (Cervus canadensis) and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) on grazing indicators along Meadow Creek, a salmon-bearing stream in northeastern Oregon.
They found that the effects of wild ungulates on stubble height and streambank alteration were within regulatory guidelines. Wild ungulate use of preferred woody species, such as willow and cottonwood that are highly sought as nutritious food sources, however, was moderate to high ( greater than 50 percent), well above the overall level of woody browse use. Adherence to guidelines developed for livestock may not result in desired riparian conditions where wild ungulate populations are high.
These findings demonstrate the importance of monitoring and managing the joint effects of domestic and wild ungulates in riparian areas on public lands.