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Riparian, wetland, and groundwater-dependent ecosystems: Assessments of current conditions in relation to natural range of variation for National Forests in the Intermountain Region (R4)

Status: 
Action
Dates: 
October, 2015

An example of riparian areas assessed by this project. This photograph shows Bear Valley Creek on the Salmon-Challis National Forest with a shallow gradient and wide valley bottom meandering through depositional material. Photo by D.M. Smith, USFS.
An example of riparian areas assessed by this project. This photograph shows Bear Valley Creek on the Salmon-Challis National Forest with a shallow gradient and wide valley bottom meandering through depositional material. Photo by D.M. Smith, USFS.

  • The objective of this project is to assist with the revision of National Forest management plans by evaluating current conditions of riparian and groundwater-dependent ecosystems in reference to their natural range of variation.
  • The investigators produce an assessment for each Forest in the Intermountain Region by synthesizing information obtained through literature review, data compilation, and site visits.
  • The analysis is generally completed at a smaller spatial scale, such as land type associations or geographic units, and summarized for the whole Forest. Additionally, the researchers identify anthropogenic changes to riparian systems, data gaps, and research needs.
  • The end products directly inform the first phase of forest plan revision — the ecosystem assessment — by producing a General Technical Report that can be cited as well as a summary of literature relevant to riparian and groundwater-dependent ecosystems on the Forest; a database; and a collection of spatial data.

Approach

Two maps showing wetland ecosystems (image A) and riparian vegetation types in the Uinta Mountain management area of the Ashley National Forest represented using designated colors.
(A) Wetland ecosystems and (B) riparian vegetation types in the Uinta Mountain management area of the Ashley National Forest.

  • The methods were designed to meet requirements outlined in the 2012 planning rule to complete a rapid assessment of ecological integrity that identifies and considers existing information and data relevant to each National Forest.
  • To provide an inventory of riparian and groundwater-dependent ecosystems, the researchers compile datasets that include 1) spatial distribution of streams, springs, and fens; 2) descriptions of plant communities associated with streams, springs, and fens; and 3) spatial distribution of these plant communities.
  • The researchers evaluate key ecosystem characteristics that measure structure, function, composition, and connectivity. These vary by Forest, but generally include: 1) distribution and connectivity of riparian ecosystems, 2) distribution of groundwater-dependent ecosystems, 3) surface water and groundwater fluctuations, 4) water quality, 5) channel and floodplain dynamics, 6) condition of spring runout channel, 7) composition and condition of riparian ecosystems, 8) composition and condition of groundwater-dependent ecosystems.
  • Drivers and stressors are identified for each ecosystem characteristic and the investigators develop an indicator to evaluate whether the characteristic is within, moderately altered, or outside the natural range of variation.
  • The investigators create maps of the level of stressors and indicators, as well as the status of each key ecosystem characteristic in terms of natural range of variation. These maps help resource managers identify “needs for change” in management approaches and areas where restoration may be appropriate or effective.

Key Findings

This photograph shows a drain in North Creek Canyon on the Manti-La Sal National Forest. It is one of many diversions in the Abajo Mountains. Surface flows and riparian vegetation are absent below the drain. (Photo by D.M. Smith, USFS)
This photograph shows a drain in North Creek Canyon on the Manti-La Sal National Forest. It is one of many diversions in the Abajo Mountains. Surface flows and riparian vegetation are absent below the drain. (Photo by D.M. Smith, USFS)

 

  • There is wide variation in the condition of riparian, wetland, and groundwater-dependent ecosystems in the Intermountain Region, which is likely a result of physical settings, differing management histories, and interactions between natural and anthropogenic disturbances.
  • Most areas have been heavily modified since Euro-American settlement, with roads and livestock grazing identified as common major stressors across all Forests. Other common, but more minor stressors include dams and diversions, mining, recreation, and invasive species.
  • Alterations in the patterns in precipitation and temperature regimes have been observed throughout the region and in many instances these changes interact with other anthropogenic stressors. The researchers incorporate the potential impacts of climate change into their assessment by including information on recent deviations in seasonal temperature and precipitation compared to the previous century.
  • Existing information on the distribution, composition, and condition of groundwater-dependent ecosystems like springs and fens is uneven and often lacking throughout the Intermountain Region.
  • Other common gaps identified across several forests include lack of information and data related to intermittent and ephemeral streams and beaver activity.

Publications

Other

A map showing stressors in each watershed within an active range management unit on the Bridger-Teton National Forest represented by designated colors.
An example of a stressor map showing the percent of each watershed within an active range management unit on the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additional Information

Assessments have been completed for the Ashley, Manti-La Sal, Salmon-Challis, Bridger-Teton, Dixie, and Fishlake National Forests. The investigators will focus on the Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest in 2019 and 2020.  All assessments will be published in a series of General Technical Reports.

Related Events

The investigators presented this project at a workshop, Interagency riparian and wetland assessment – Best practices, innovative approaches, and opportunities for collaboration in Fort Collins, CO in December 2017. The slideshow for this event is available here

Katelyn Driscoll presented this project at the Society for Freshwater Science Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, UT in May 2019. The slideshow for this event is available here

A map showing whether each land type association of the Salmon-Challis National Forest is within, moderately altered, or outside the natural range of variation for water fluctuation in surface water systems represented with designated colors.
An example of a natural range of variation status map showing whether each land type association of the Salmon-Challis National Forest is within, moderately altered, or outside the natural range of variation for water fluctuation in surface water systems.

 


Project Contact: 

Principal Investigators:
Co-Investigators:
Collaborators:
Research Staff:
Funding Contributors:
USFS Intermountain Region