Low-Tech Riparian And Meadow Restoration Keeps Rangelands Greener Longer

October 8, 2018

New ‘Science to Solutions‘ shows that different low-tech restoration methods increased vegetation productivity in wet areas by 25%

In Brief:

  • Traditional approaches to riparian and wet meadow restoration are often intensive and expensive, limiting the extent to which they can be applied.
  • Practitioners are increasingly turning to cost-effective, low-tech restoration options that restore soil moisture and improve vegetation, which can be more easily implemented at large scales.
  • New research shows low-tech restoration methods effectively increased vegetation productivity by 25% and kept plants greener longer during the year.
  • Restoration efforts also showed reduced sensitivity to precipitation over time, resulting in greater resiliency against the impacts of drought and climate variability.

Download this Science to Solutions: web version or print-ready version

Introduction:

On semiarid rangelands in the western U.S., water is life. Wet habitats—like riparian areas, streams, and meadows—comprise less than 2% of the landscape but are vitally important for wildlife and livestock.

Unfortunately, nearly half of these scarce resources are considered degraded. Traditional approaches to restoring riparian areas and wet meadows are often intensive and expensive, limiting the extent to which they can be applied.

Increasingly, practitioners are using more cost-effective, low-tech restoration methods—like simple hand-built structures made of wood, mud, and rocks—that can be more readily applied to match the scope of degradation. These techniques are designed to kickstart natural recovery processes with the least amount of money, which allows landowners and managers to treat areas on a larger scale.

“Low-tech stream restoration helps put money in the piggy-bank when it’s wet, so that wildlife, ranchers, and the ecosystem as a whole can draw upon the stored soil water during dry times.”

~Nick Silverman, study lead, University of Montana

Goals of low-tech wet habitat restoration include enhancing floodplain connectivity, boosting soil moisture retention, and raising water tables, which produces more ‘green groceries’ that feed wildlife and livestock in the late summer and early fall.

The Study:

New research shows that these low-tech restoration techniques are indeed making riparian and meadow areas more productive, and helping them stay greener longer. A study sponsored by the NRCS-led Sage Grouse Initiative and the Bureau of Land Management evaluates the outcomes of three different low-tech wet habitat restoration projects around the American West.

Low-tech restoration methods increased vegetation productivity by up to 25% and kept plants greener longer during the year. Plus, Maggie Creek revealed added benefits of restoration with time: plant productivity was less sensitive to precipitation as the restoration effort matured, generating greater resiliency against the impacts of drought and climate variability.

This study shows how low-tech restoration techniques implemented at appropriate scales are generating outcomes that are measurable from space.

Science In Action

Through the Sage Grouse Initiative, the NRCS and partners provide technical and financial assistance for strategic practices that help landowners scale-up conservation of the West’s  precious water resources:

The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.