Riparian areas in Jackson County
Riparian areas exist alongside rivers, creeks, and streams; they serve as a transition zone between aquatic and terrestrial environments. In Jackson County, riparian areas most commonly have a mix of large deciduous trees such as maple, cottonwood, and ash and understory bushes such as chokecherry, currant, and Oregon grape; in some higher elevation areas conifers may be mixed in, and in other areas such as meadows and shrublands there may be fewer tree species.
Benefits of riparian areas
Riparian areas provide many key ecological functions for humans and the environment. Healthy riparian areas stabilize stream banks and spread and slow floodwaters reducing downstream impacts. They also help improve water quality by filtering nutrients, sediment, and pollutants from both runoff and the water bodies themselves; their vegetation also provides shade to help maintain stream temperatures. Riparian areas provide critical habitat and are areas of incredibly high biodiversity due to being nutrient-rich and a transitional habitat.
degradation of riparian areas
Though riparian areas serve critical functions, many are in degraded condition. In developed areas such as in cities or agricultural lands, riparian areas often lack a diverse mix of vegetation and are overrun with invasive plant species that do not provide the same benefits as native species. The lack of diverse, healthy native vegetation, in addition to altered flow patterns in rivers and streams, has led to incised, or down-cut banks, cutting off the gradual transition zone between aquatic and terrestrial habitats; in some cases what was the former riparian area may be completely disconnected from the stream and water table below. In other cases, riparian areas may lack water due to water diversions. High-severity wildfires have also created need for restoration of riparian areas. Overall, degraded riparian areas cannot provide the water quality, velocity, and habitat benefits of healthy riparian areas and may instead exacerbate ecosystem health issues.
Restoration of riparian areas is pivotal to restore their benefits for people and the environment. Key restoration actions include removing invasive species and restoring a diverse mix of native species. Native vegetation may be restored via direct plantings, as well as allowing natural recruitment processes to take place after the removal of invasive vegetation (see our informational resources to learn more). As the vegetation returns, it helps stabilize streambanks and restore ecological functions. In some cases, where there has been significant bank incision, other actions to reconnect the stream and the banks may need to occur such as regrading the streambank or placing large wood instream to help spread the flow.
Contact our riparian resource conservationist, Clint Nichols, for technical assistance with your riparian areas and information on any available financial assistance programs and opportunities.