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Riparian Areas: Providing Landscape Habitat Diversity - Part 5 of 7

Author(s) or contact(s): A. Banner and W.H. MacKenzie
Source: Research Branch
Subject: Biodiversity
Series: Extension Note
Other details:  Published 1998. Hardcopy is available.


January 2000: Policy direction for biodiversity is now represented by the Landscape Unit Planning Guide. This Extension Note should be regarded as technical background only.

Riparian areas represent less than 10% of the provincial land base, but are often considered the most dynamic of all landscape features. Natural disturbances and fluvial processes continually work together in these areas to create distinctive ecosystems that are crucial for biological habitat diversity. Because of their usually abundant supplies of water and nutrients, most riparian sites are highly productive for timber. Riparian ecosystems also exert a great influence over animal and plant life, and many wildlife species depend on riparian areas in some way for food, water, security, rest, travel, and reproduction.

However, because riparian areas usually occupy the lowest topographic positions in landscapes and have natural connections throughout the watershed, they are particularly sensitive. Many of the known negative effects of historical land-use practices on forested riparian areas resulted from a focus on the individual stand or stream reach. Resource managers now realize that a larger landscape perspective and longer timeframes are necessary when planning land-use activities in riparian zones.

The Forest Practices Code acknowledges the importance of landscape ecology concepts by enabling district managers to designate planning areas called landscape units, each with specific landscape unit objectives. The Biodiversity Guidebook (B.C. Ministry of Forests and B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks 1995a), a component of the Code, recommends procedures to maintain biodiversity at both the landscape and the stand level. These procedures, which use principles of ecosystem management tempered by social considerations, recognize that the ecological processes of riparian habitats must be sustained to maintain landscape-level biodiversity.

This extension note is the fifth in a series designed to raise awareness of landscape ecology concepts and to provide background for the ecologically based forest management approach recommended in the Biodiversity Guidebook. The focus here is on riparian areas1. We first define and describe riparian areas. We then discuss several ecological principles underlying the common structural and functional characteristics of riparian areas and review their implications for biodiversity. We also briefly examine some of the functions of healthy riparian areas and cumulative harmful effects of poor management at the landscape level. We conclude by suggesting how these concepts can be applied in landscape- level planning for biodiversity.

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Updated April 17, 2007