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Abstract

The purpose of this design manual is to provide restoration practitioners with guidelines for implementing a subset of low-tech tools —namely beaver dam analogues (BDAs) and post-assisted log structures (PALS)—for initiating process-based restoration in structurally-starved riverscapes. While the concept of process-based restoration in riverscapes has been advocated for at least two decades, details and specific examples on how to implement it remain sparse. Here, we describe ‘low-tech process-based restoration’ (LT-PBR) as a practice of using simple, low unit-cost, structural additions (e.g. wood and beaver dams) to riverscapes to mimic functions and initiate specific processes. Hallmarks of this approach include: - An explicit focus on the processes that a low-tech restoration intervention is meant to promote - A conscious effort to use cost-effective, low-tech treatments (e.g. hand-built, natural materials, non-engineered, short-term design life-spans) because of the need to efficiently scale-up application. - ‘Letting the system do the work’ which defers critical decision making to riverscapes and nature’s ecosystem engineers. Other resources available at: http://lowtechpbr.restoration.usu.edu
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... Davee et al., 2019;Davis et al., 2021;Johnson et al., 2019;Keeble-Toll, 2018;Munir & Westbrook, 2020;Pearce et al., 2021aPearce et al., , 2021bSilverman et al., 2019;Wade et al., 2020;Weber et al., 2017;Wheaton et al., 2019). Though the implementation of these methods has a strong theoretical and technical foundation, skepticism lingers-particularly about the efficacy of hand-built, beaver-inspired structures, and beaver coexistence. ...
... However, we are not developing riverscape-scale nature-based climate action strategies (Skidmore & Wheaton, 2022). Restoring floodplain connectivity and function is both a climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy because it reverses degradation and recovers natural resilience (Johnson et al., 2019;Pollock et al., 2015;Silverman et al., 2019;Wheaton et al., 2019). Natural riverscape resilience is only achieved through a restoration of floodplain processes (Cluer & Thorne, 2014), not the engineering or imposition of form (ELI, 2016). ...
... Connected floodplains are more productive than disconnected floodplains in part because of their ability to retain and extract the chemical potential energy of the watershed's biotic (organic) components (Puttock et al., 2018;Wegener et al., 2017). Functioning floodplains are connected because planform and longitudinal structures increase resistance to surface water movement, force water up onto floodplain surfaces, and form a diversity of flow paths across the entire valley-bottom (Pollock et al., 2014;Wheaton et al., 2019). This in-channel and across-floodplain hydraulic roughness dissipates flow energy, keeping the transport-deposition balance more to the deposition side, but more importantly, increasing the residence time of surface and hyporheic aquifer water, thereby shortening the length scales of nutrient spirals and increasing ecosystem productivity (Briggs et al., 2013;Helton et al., 2014). ...
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Rivers and streams, when fully connected to their floodplains, are naturally resilient systems that are increasingly part of the conversation on nature‐based climate solutions. Reconnecting waterways to their floodplains improves water quality and quantity, supports biodiversity and sensitive species conservation, increases flood, drought and fire resiliency, and bolsters carbon sequestration. But, while the importance of river restoration is clear, beaver‐based restoration—for example, strategic coexistence, relocation, and mimicry—remains an underutilized strategy despite ample data demonstrating its efficacy. Climate‐driven disturbances are actively pushing streams into increasingly degraded states, and the window of opportunity for restoration will not stay open forever. Therefore, now is the perfect time to apply the science of beaver‐based low‐tech process‐based stream restoration to support building climate resilience across the landscape. Not every stream will be a good candidate for beaver‐based restoration, but we have the tools to know which ones are. Let us use them. This article is categorized under: Science of Water > Hydrological Processes Water and Life > Nature of Freshwater Ecosystems Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness Beaver connected floodplains are climate change adaptation and mitigation features of riverscapes.
... Beaver are being hailed as one of the most cost-effective and sustainable solutions for ecological restoration and climate change resilience 1 , and "light-touch" low-tech process-based restoration projects that involve beaver are becoming increasingly popular in the western US. According to Wheaton et. al. (2019) low-tech process-based restoration, or LTPBR, is a practice of using simple, low unit-cost, structural additions (e.g., wood and beaver dams) to riverscapes to mimic functions and promote specific processes. Hallmarks of this approach include an explicit focus on the promoting geomorphic and fluvial processes, a conscious effort to use ...
... Unlike more heavy-handed engineering and design-build enhancement strategies, beaverrelated LTPBR is an inherently ecological (as per Palmer et al. 2005), process-based (as per Beechie et al. 2010), and biomic (as per Johnson et al. 2019 andThorne 2019) approach to restoring riverscape health that can only work in proper settings. Beaver mimicry and/or beaver reintroduction are only appropriate on riverscapes where beaver complexes naturally existed prior to human disturbance (Wheaton et al. 2019, Pollock et al. 2017. For mimicry to be effective, and for the benefits to last, natural beaver activity must be promoted and eventually become self-sustaining. ...
... The LTPBR manual (Wheaton et al. 2019) and the Beaver Restoration Guidebook (Pollock et al. 2017) recommend using the Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool (BRAT) (MacFarlane et al. 2015) to evaluate restoration feasibility and to select sites. The BRAT, a computer model that predicts the capacity of streams to support beaver dams, was run for Colorado in 2020 by Juli Scamardo (Colorado State University). ...
Technical Report
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This study outlines a pragmatic professional-judgment assessment of the potential for using low-tech process-based restoration (LTPBR) approaches for restoring riverscapes with beavers in Park County, Colorado. The method allows professionals to apply knowledge and data from many sources in the evaluation of current beaver activity, capacity, limiting factors, and restoration potential to prioritize opportunities.
... Both of these stages represent anastomosing wet woodland or grassed wetland river corridors, but Stage 0 is assumed to reflect conditions prior to anthropogenic modification and Stage 8 represents a stable endpoint after multiple adjustments following anthropogenic modification. There are many interventions that can nudge a channel-floodplain complex toward Stage 0 conditions, including low-tech process-based restoration (Wheaton et al., 2019), valley-scale matching to a geomorphic grade line (Powers et al., 2019), and removal of legacy sediment (Booth et al., 2009;Hartranft et al., 2011;Walter & Merritts, 2008). Restoration toward the Stage 0 condition at the South Fork McKenzie River (SFMR) in Oregon, USA utilized the entire valley bottom to reconnect an incised channel to its floodplain, disperse surface flow into multiple complex channels via an anastomosing planform, and enhance lateral and surface-subsurface hydrologic connectivity. ...
Article
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The South Fork McKenzie River (SFMR) in western Oregon, USA hosts one of the largest Stage 0 stream restoration projects implemented to date. Stage 0 refers to a multichannel planform with strong hydrologic connectivity to the adjacent floodplain and surface‐subsurface connectivity. Stage 0 restoration was implemented on a 900‐m‐long reach of the SFMR by re‐grading the channel and floodplain using 65,000 m3 of sediment to raise the channel bed. Thousands of large logs were added and the ends of some logs were buried in the sediment to provide foundations for future log jams. Our primary objective is to present a monitoring protocol based on randomly located sampling plots. We also analyze results from two years of data collection since project implementation. Within each plot, we measured canopy cover, wood volume, flow depth and velocity, organic cover (area covered by coarse and fine organic material), and substrate grain size. We used intracluster correlation coefficients and variance of measured variables to assess heterogeneity at three spatial scales: within plots, between adjacent plots, and across the entire site. Here, we evaluate changes in the first two years after restoration (i.e., not pre‐ vs post‐restoration). We hypothesized that heterogeneity within a plot would decrease as the plot adjusted to local‐scale hydraulics and sediment and particulate material transport. We hypothesized that heterogeneity would increase between adjacent plots and across the entire site. We found that spatial heterogeneity of geomorphic variables decreased within plots. Heterogeneity of organic cover, sediment size, and flow depth increased between adjacent plots, although other variables did not change. Site‐scale heterogeneity decreased for all variables except organic cover and substrate. We interpret the observed geomorphic responses to reflect decreased longitudinal connectivity and increased lateral and vertical connectivity at the restoration site.
... A valley bottom is the relatively flat surface that is subject to reworking and influence by current fluvial processes. It therefore represents the maximum area that can be influenced by any riverscape restoration or conservation project (Wheaton et al., 2019). ...
Technical Report
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In this report we present a conservation, restoration and monitoring plan for the lower White River, a major tributary of the Green River. The plan is intended to help guide conservation, restoration and management of the lower White River over the next several decades and is also developed as an adaptive management plan to facilitate learning.
... To assist salmon conservation better around the North Pacific Rim, Whited et al. (2012) summarized metrics of freshwater habitat from satellite imagery and provided this information online as a 'riverscape analysis' tool. When key habitat features are altered or population declines are observed, restoration actions are typically prescribed and could benefit from the knowledge provided by highresolution spatially comprehensive surveys and modelling (Macfarlane et al., 2017;Wheaton et al., 2019). Recent regional river temperature models (Isaak et al., 2017b;Jackson et al., 2018) or TIR imagery (Dugdale, 2016) could be used to identify reaches that are consistently warmer than other locations or areas influenced by thermal pollution (e.g. from water abstraction, industrial water discharge or river regulation) and inform precisely targeted restoration activities (Kurylyk et al., 2015). ...
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Landscape perspectives in riverine ecology have been undertaken increasingly in the last 30 years, leading aquatic ecologists to develop a diverse set of approaches for conceptualizing, mapping and understanding ‘riverscapes’. Spatiotemporally explicit perspectives of rivers and their biota nested within the socio-ecological landscape now provide guiding principles and approaches in inland fisheries and watershed management. During the last two decades, scientific literature on riverscapes has increased rapidly, indicating that the term and associated approaches are serving an important purpose in freshwater science and management. We trace the origins and theoretical foundations of riverscape perspectives and approaches and examine trends in the published literature to assess the state of the science and demonstrate how they are being applied to address recent challenges in the management of riverine ecosystems. We focus on approaches for studying and visualizing rivers and streams with remote sensing, modelling and sampling designs that enable pattern detection as seen from above (e.g. river channel, floodplain, and riparian areas) but also into the water itself (e.g. aquatic organisms and the aqueous environment). Key concepts from landscape ecology that are central to riverscape approaches are heterogeneity, scale (resolution, extent and scope) and connectivity (structural and functional), which underpin spatial and temporal aspects of study design, data collection and analysis. Mapping of physical and biological characteristics of rivers and floodplains with high-resolution, spatially intensive techniques improves understanding of the causes and ecological consequences of spatial patterns at multiple scales. This information is crucial for managing river ecosystems, especially for the successful implementation of conservation, restoration and monitoring programs. Recent advances in remote sensing, field-sampling approaches and geospatial technology are making it increasingly feasible to collect high-resolution data over larger scales in space and time. We highlight challenges and opportunities and discuss future avenues of research with emerging tools that can potentially help to overcome obstacles to collecting, analysing and displaying these data. This synthesis is intended to help researchers and resource managers understand and apply these concepts and approaches to address real-world problems in freshwater management.
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Despite research into the dynamics of seed transport in fluvial systems, few consider how far seeds will travel, and how far from local or upstream seed sources passive regeneration can occur. We experimentally test the seed floating time of 60 plant species (50 native and 10 exotic) commonly found in riparian corridors of southeastern Australia. Around 50% of species had seeds that floated for 2 days or less, and for most species' (90%) all seeds had sunk within one week. Seeds of native species tended to sink more quickly than exotic, with 64% of native species' seeds floating for less than 2 days. In contrast, most exotic species (80%) floated for longer than 2 days, and 40% had seeds still floating after one week. This suggests that exotic species are good floaters and likely to travel long distances, making them excellent hydrochores. Finally, we applied the findings to a real case study, Wollombi Brook, NSW, Australia. We combined the findings from the seed floating experiment with low flow hydrology calculations to map the potential travel distance of seeds from known extant vegetation sources. We show that maximum seed travel distance per day could be up to 21 km. Thus, species that float for a week could potentially travel almost 150 km downstream before sinking or being deposited. We discuss how local versus upstream seed sources, and hydrochory, could be utilised in passive revegetation and weed management of riparian corridors.
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Rivers have been diminished, simplified, and degraded globally by the concentration of agriculture, transportation, and development in valley bottoms over decades and centuries, substantially limiting their ecological health and value. More recently, climate change is steadily increasing stress on aging traditional, gray infrastructure. Recent trends in river management present an opportunity to address both the ecological degradation and climate stress. A strategic focus on riverscapes as critical natural infrastructure can serve as ecosystem-based adaptation to improve resilience to climate change and restore river ecosystem health. As traditional, gray infrastructure ages and fails under increasing climate stress, there is opportunity to rebuild with improved understanding of the value of the ecosystem services that healthy riverscapes provide. River valley bottoms, including source-water wetlands and riverscape floodplains, are the critical natural infrastructure areas deserving of protection and restoration to build resilience to increased frequency and severity of fires, floods and droughts associated with climate change. Since healthy riverscapes need space and water, the long-standing focus on restoring natural flow regimes makes sense. Equally crucial to restoring river health is to give rivers space and freedom to exercise (i.e., flood and adjust their channels).
Technical Report
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In this report we present a conservation, restoration and monitoring plan for the streams and riparian areas of Dugout Ranch, Utah, owned and operated by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The plan is intended to help guide conservation, restoration and management of the Dugout Ranch’s riverscapes (streams and riparian areas) over the next several decades and is also developed as an adaptive management plan to facilitate learning. The recommended conservation and restoration actions are intended to maintain and enhance native riparian vegetation and instream biota. Many terrestrial animals that use the riparian zone or migrate through the riverscape are also anticipated to benefit from the plan. The recommended conservation and restoration actions are based on the best available information regarding the current ecological and geomorphic conditions and restoration recovery potential as well as ranch management objectives. We prioritized reaches for conservation and restoration actions using condition assessment models, expert opinion and field observations. We recommend an experimental design for implementation of conservation and restoration actions. Combined with monitoring, the experimental design is aimed at identifying the most successful conservation and restoration actions for maintaining complex instream habitat and a healthy native riparian community.
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Truths of the Riverscape refer to the use of geomorphological principles to inform sustainable approaches to nature-based river management. Across much of the world a command-and-control philosophy continues to assert human authority over rivers. Tasked to treat rivers as stable and predictable entities, engineers have ‘fixed rivers in place’ and ‘locked them in time’. Unsustainable outcomes ensue. Legacy effects and path dependencies of silenced and strangled (zombified) rivers are difficult and increasingly expensive to address. Nature fights back, and eventually it wins, with disastrous consequences for the environment, society, culture and the economy. The failure to meet the transformative potential of nature-based applications is expressed here as a disregard for ‘Truths of the Riverscape’. The first truth emphasises the imperative to respect diversity , protecting and/or enhancing the distinctive values and attributes of each and every river. A cross-scalar (nested hierarchical) lens underpins practices that ‘know your catchment’. The second truth envisages management practices that work with processes , interpreting the behaviour of each river. This recognises that erosion and deposition are intrinsic functions of a healthy living river—in appropriate places, at appropriate rates. This premise underpins the third truth, assess river condition , highlighting the importance of what to measure and what to measure against in approaches that address the causes rather than the symptoms of unexpected river adjustment. The fourth truth interprets evolutionary trajectory to determine what is realistically achievable in the management of a given river system. Analysis of whether the river sits on a degradation or recovery pathway (i.e., condition is deteriorating or improving), alongside assessment of catchment-specific recovery potential, is used to foresight river futures. Viewed collectively, Truths of the Riverscape provide a coherent platform to develop and apply proactive and precautionary catchment management plans that address concerns for biodiversity loss and climate change adaptation.
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River regulation alters hydrological and sediment regimes and consequently affects habitat complexity and dynamics, biodiversity and ecosystem services. Although channel bank erosion is a key geomorphological process supplying alluvial channels with coarse sediments and diversifying aquatic and riparian habitats, banks have often been stabilized to limit erosion risk to human activities and facilities. The objective of this paper is to assess the effects, and their sustainability, of bank protection removal on a 300 m long reach of the Old Rhine (France/Germany) to promote sediment supply, channel diversification and a rehabilitation of fluvial morpho-sedimentary processes. This action was combined with the construction of two island groynes to locally increase bank erosion processes. Yearly detailed monitoring was implemented over 6 years, including classical bathymetric surveys, airborne topo-bathymetric and terrestrial LiDAR, and bed grain-size and bedload tracking. Following a Q15 flood, the restoration induced a weak sediment supply. The restoration diversified habitats due to the implementation of the two island groynes, inducing bank scouring and the creation of new macroforms, as well as local bed grain-size diversification and fining. The cross-sectional diversity of the restored water channel was close to the regularization engineering phase. Channel bedform diversification persisted six years due to the persistence of the two island groynes. The action induced the rehabilitation of fluvial forms, in a static manner, rather than the rehabilitation of fluvial morpho-sedimentary processes, which raises questions about the sustainability of the benefits of such management actions in terms of fluvial functionality and naturality.
Technical Report
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The Low-Tech Process Based Restoration of Riverscapes Pocket Guide is an illustrated and condensed version of the Design Manual (http://lowtechpbr.restoration.usu.edu). The pocket guide is designed to fit in your pocket (4 x 6") to use as a reference in the field.
Technical Report
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Chapter Four of Low-Tech Process-Based Restoration of Riverscapes: Design Manual (http://lowtechpbr.restoration.usu.edu Post-assisted log structures (PALS) and beaver dam analogues (BDAs) are hand-built structures. PALS mimicand promote the processes of wood accumulation; whereas BDAs mimic and promote beaver dam activity. •PALS and BDAs are permeable, temporary structures, built using natural materials. •BDAs differ from PALS in and that BDAs create ponds using a variety of fill materials; PALS are built with only woody material, which tends to be larger diameter than the woody material used for BDAs.•PALS and BDAs are both intended to address the broad impairment of structural starvation in wadeable streams, but can also be used to mitigate against a range of more specific impairments. •PALS and BDAs can be built using a variety of natural materials, and built to a range of different shapes, sizes and orientations.•PALS and BDAs are most likely to achieve restoration goals when built in high numbers.•Some PALS and BDAs are likely to breach and/or lose some wood, but when many structures are installed, that material will accumulate on downstream structures or in natural accumulation areas leading to more complexity.
Technical Report
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Chapter Two of Low-Tech Process-Based Restoration of Riverscapes: Design Manual (http://lowtechpbr.restoration.usu.edu) Low-tech process-based restoration principles are critical to understand as both the basis for effectively applying low-tech restoration treatments and managing expectations about timing and magnitude of outcomes. We propose and synthesize principles that help practitioners tackle low-tech process-based restoration of structurally-starved riverscapes. Many of these principles likely apply to a greater range of riverscapes, but we do not cover those applications here. We break our guiding principles into: - Riverscapes Principles - those that represent an understanding of what constitutes healthy riverscapes to help define what restoration should be aiming for; and - Restoration Principles – those that influence the choices and approach we take in planning, designing and implementing low-tech restoration. Since we focus on structurally-starved riverscapes, low-tech restoration that mimics and promotes the processes of wood accumulation and beaver dam activity specifically emerge out of these principles. These principles collectively provide practitioners with the rationale and strategies to attempt to tackle the true scope of degradation with simple, smart, agile and scalable low-tech solutions that rely on the system itself to do most of the work of recovery and find self-sustaining and resilient futures.
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This report, contracted by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) describes an Adaptive Management Plan for the translocation of beaver as part of stream restoration efforts in the Grouse Creek Watershed (bid AS17157; purchase order no. 560 170000000000222) in northwest Box Elder County, UT. The purpose of this report is to present an adaptive management plan that guides the translocation of beaver into restored stream reaches along Pine Creek, Kimbell Creek, and Cotton Creek in order to achieve restoration objectives and also mitigate the potential threats that such translocation may produce. The report provides a simple framework to guide decision making and management action as it pertains to beaver translocation, monitoring beaver activity, and potential management actions in response to threats to infrastructure posed by beaver dam building activity. The plan identifies specific courses of action in response to different levels of risk and beaver activity, but also acknowledges that ultimately management decisions belong to the private land-owner, Jay Tanner, for whom the restoration was performed. There are limited infrastructure concerns within the proposed translocation reaches, as such much of this report is concerned with outlining a more generalized approach to identifying potential risks outside of the restoration and translocation areas and presenting a decision-making framework.
Article
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Riparian and aquatic habitats support biodiversity and key environmental processes in semi-arid and arid landscapes, but stressors such as conventional livestock grazing, wildfire, and drought can degrade their condition. To enhance habitat for fish and wildlife and increase resiliency in these critical areas, land managers in the interior western United States increasingly use alternative grazing strategies, beaver management, or beaver dam surrogates as low-effort, low-expense restoration approaches. In this study we used historical archives of satellite and aerial imagery spanning three decades to characterize riparian vegetation productivity and document beaver dam occurrences, then evaluated vegetation productivity relative to land management associated with livestock grazing and beaver dam densities while accounting for climate and wildfire. After controlling for stream characteristics such as stream size, elevation, and stream slope, we demonstrate a positive response of riparian area vegetation to conservation-oriented grazing approaches and livestock exclosures, extensive beaver dam development, increased precipitation, and lack of wildfire. We show that livestock management which emphasizes riparian recovery objectives can be an important precursor to beaver activity and describe 11 – 39% increases in floodplain vegetation productivity where conservation-oriented grazing approaches or livestock exclosures and high beaver activity occur together on low-gradient sites. Land management decisions can therefore potentially confer resiliency to riparian areas under changing and variable climate conditions – the increased vegetation productivity resulting from conservation-oriented grazing or exclosures and high amounts of beaver activity at our sites is the equivalent to moving conventionally-grazed, low-gradient sites without beaver up at least 250 m in elevation or increasing water year precipitation by at least 250 mm.
Article
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Beaver reintroductions and beaver dam structures are an increasingly utilized ecological tool for rehabilitating degraded streams, yet beaver dams can potentially impact upstream fish migrations. We collected two years of data on Arctic grayling movement through a series of beaver dams in a low gradient mountain stream, utilizing radio‐telemetry techniques, to determine how hydrology, dam characteristics, and fish attributes impeded passage and movement rates of spawning grayling. We compared fish movement between a “normal” flow year and a “low” flow year, determined grayling passage probabilities over dams in relation to a suite of factors, and predicted daily movement rates in relation to the number of dams each fish passed and distance between dams during upstream migration to spawning areas. We found that the average passage probability over unbreached beaver dams was 88%, though we found that it fell below 50% at specific dams. Upstream passage of grayling was affected by three main characteristics: (a) temperature, (b) breach status, and (c) hydrologic linkages that connect sections of stream above and below the dam. Other variables influence passage, but to a lesser degree. Cumulative passage varied with distance upstream and total number of dams passed in low versus normal flow years, while movement rates upstream slowed as fish swam closer to dams. Our findings demonstrate that upstream passage of fish over beaver dams is strongly correlated with hydrologic conditions with moderate controls by dam‐ and fish‐level characteristics. Our results provide a framework that can be applied to reduce barrier effects when and where beaver dams pose a significant threat to the upstream migration of fish populations while maintaining the diverse ecological benefits of beaver activity when dams are not a threat to fish passage.
Article
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Stream restoration approaches most often quantify habitat degradation, and therefore recovery objectives, on aquatic habitat metrics based on a narrow range of species needs (e.g., salmon and trout), as well as channel evolution models and channel design tools biased toward single‐threaded, and “sediment‐balanced” channel patterns. Although this strategy enhances perceived habitat needs, it often fails to properly identify the underlying geomorphological and ecological processes limiting species recovery and ecosystem restoration. In this paper, a unique process‐based approach to restoration that strives to restore degraded stream, river, or meadow systems to the premanipulated condition is presented. The proposed relatively simple Geomorphic Grade Line (GGL) design method is based on Geographic Information System (GIS) and field‐based analyses and the development of design maps using relative elevation models that expose the relic predisturbance valley surface. Several case studies are presented to both describe the development of the GGL method and to illustrate how the GGL method of evaluating valley surfaces has been applied to Stage 0 restoration design. The paper also summarizes the wide applicability of the GGL method, the advantages and limitations of the method, and key considerations for future designers of Stage 0 systems anywhere in the world. By presenting this ongoing Stage 0 restoration work, the authors hope to inspire other practitioners to embrace the restoration of dynamism and diversity through restoring the processes that create multifaceted river systems that provide long‐term resiliency, meta‐stability, larger and more complex and diverse habitats, and optimal ecosystem benefits.
Presentation
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This was a talk expanding the classic river health analogy to think about what role restoration actions can play in contributing to a rivers health. The talk attempts to make the case for low-tech process based restoration as feeding meals to promote specific exercise (processes), as part of a healthy lifestyle for rivers. By contrast, most restoration practice is overly focused on surgery as the only restoration tool.
Article
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Restoration of riparian and wet meadow ecosystems in semi‐arid rangelands of the western U.S. is a high priority given their ecological and hydrological importance in the region. However, traditional restoration approaches are often intensive and costly, limiting the extent over which they can be applied. Practitioners are increasingly trying new restoration techniques that are more cost effective, less intensive, and can more practically scale up to the scope of degradation. Unfortunately, practitioners typically lack resources to undertake outcome‐based evaluations necessary to judge the efficacy of these techniques. In this study, we use freely‐available, satellite remote sensing to explore changes in vegetation productivity (NDVI) of three distinct, low‐tech riparian and wet meadow restoration projects. Case studies are presented that range in geographic location (Colorado, Oregon, and Nevada), restoration practice (Zeedyk structures, beaver dam analogs, and grazing management), and time since implementation. Restoration practices resulted in increased vegetation productivity of up to 25% and increased annual persistence of productive vegetation. Improvements in productivity with time since restoration suggest that elevated resilience may further enhance wildlife habitat and increase forage production. Long‐term, documented outcomes of conservation are rare; we hope our findings empower practitioners to further monitor and explore the use of low‐tech methods for restoration of ecohydrologic processes at meaningful spatial scales. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.