Riparian areas also attract wildlife and birds. By allowing our riparian area to become heavily damaged by livestock or other traffic, our stream channels can become wider and shallower, and the water warmer. Heavy grazing of livestock over many years, can remove the lower layers of vegetation ad shrubs which are key habitat for birds and other wildlife.
Fish and other aquatic creatures also have a unique relationship with Riparian areas. Streambanks provide habitat. Fish live on the edge of a stream, and make more use of the edge than the middle of a channel. In lakes, the shallow areas where the sun can penetrate is the highest area of productivity and most used area by fish. In submerged vegetation, fish find cover, food and places to spawn.
Fish are indicators of the degree of health in their world and ours. Trout have the highest requirements for water temperature, dissolved oxygen and physical habitat. They have low tolerances for changes, especially in temperature and sediment. If trout are replaced by northern pike or suckers, that indicates a dramatic change in habitat. If the trend continues, white suckers, one of the most tolerant fish of poorer habitat will disappear. It is very difficult to restore fish populations in some systems until we take a watershed approach to encouraging riparian health, water quality and water quantity.
Healthy riparian areas are a foundation to your livestock operation. Good management practices initiate the natural system and foster healthy native plant communities. The key principles of good range management are:
-Balance your livestock demand with your available forage supply, which means harvest your forage but leave enough carryover to protect your plants and soil.
-Distribute your livestock evenly and not letting livestock linger and overuse an area. Avoid allowing your livestock near streambanks that are saturated with moisture.
-Provide adequate rest periods for plants when growing conditions are favorable to rebuild roots,and energy. Energy stored in the roots is needed to initiate growth in the spring. To be most effective, rest needs to occur during the growing season, not before or after the growth period.