Rangeland Ecology & Management

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Oxbows in river, Crested Butte, CO

Rangeland Ecology

Riparian Areas

Photo by: Mitch McClaran
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    Much of the West's water supply originates as rainfall or snowmelt on rangeland watersheds. In addition, the riparian areas along Western rangeland streams and rivers provide vital habitat for wildlife, fish, and plants. The running water and lush vegetation of these areas often serve as focal points for livestock and for recreation. Concurrently, sparsely vegetated rangelands may be susceptible to erosion. Upland activities that significantly diminish vegetative cover can lead to increased runoff and sedimentation. Heavy use of riparian areas can destroy aquatic habitat and undermine the ability of these systems to filter pollutants.

    As a result of rising concern over non-point source pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency through the Clean Water Act has begun monitoring Western rangeland waterways and looking for ways to improve water quality. Encouragingly, many local communities have proactively come together to address watershed problems. Here we provide information about riparian areas and links that introduce the terminology and basic principles involved in watershed and riparian management, discuss the major issues related to grazing in riparian areas, describe how the Clean Water Act is being applied, and cover the issues involved in riparian area monitoring.