[Riparian Management Area Guidebook Table of Contents]

Range in riparian areas


The objectives for riparian areas (see "RMA objectives") are the same for range use as for other forest practices. Due to the unique effects and management constraints of range use compared to other forest practices however, guidelines to achieve riparian area objectives are presented separately for range use.

Riparian areas provide important watering sites for livestock and, in some parts of the province, significantly contribute to livestock forage. Riparian areas are also especially sensitive to range use practices. As a result, riparian areas are often the focus of range management planning and should be given special consideration when developing range use plans.

Stream, wetland, and lake riparian areas should be managed as part of the larger pasture. Range use plans for a pasture should be designed to meet riparian as well as upland objectives. In many cases, range use schedules and objectives may be determined primarily by riparian objectives. In cases where it is not possible to meet riparian objectives through broader pasture management practices, it may be necessary to restrict cattle use by fencing or other means.

Range guidelines differ in important aspects from those for other forest practices:

Although the range guidelines presented in this section contain quantitative criteria for monitoring riparian attributes, in most cases the range manager will be aware, based on personal experience and normal observations, where range use effects are exceeding guideline conditions. In only a few circumstances should it be necessary to apply quantitative criteria for monitoring range use effects.

Range habitat units

Range habitat units are the basic unit for application and monitoring of range guidelines for riparian areas. They are areas of sufficiently homogeneous vegetation and site conditions to be a meaningful basis for detecting and assessing the effects of range use on riparian area attributes. For streams, habitat units should be stream reaches as described in "Classifying streams." For lakes, two habitat units should be defined—the shallow (< 2 m deep) lake edge and the deeper portion of the lake. For wetlands and for areas adjacent to streams, wetlands, and lakes, habitat units are areas of relatively uniform vegetation and site conditions and are usually identified and mapped by dominant plant species. They should also be referenced to the biogeoclimatic unit in which they occur. A forested habitat unit should have uniform dominant tree species and a relatively uniform understorey vegetation. A shrub dominated unit should have uniform dominant shrub species and a relatively uniform herbaceous vegetation. Meadow, grassland, and other herbaceous habitat units should have relatively uniform dominant herbaceous species.

Examples of habitat units include:

Range habitat units in riparian areas are grouped into two broad ecosystems for the purposes of the range guidelines:

Streams, wetlands, and lakes are defined earlier in this guidebook.

Moist riparian ecosystems include moist lower slopes and terraces (hygric or subhygric ecological moisture regime) that border the stream, wetland, or lake and have vegetation distinct from that of the surrounding uplands. These ecosystems are transitional between the wet aquatic feature (stream, wetland, or lake) and the drier surrounding uplands.

Although upland ecosystems are not part of the riparian area as defined by the regulations, those upland ecosystems immediately adjacent to the riparian area should be included in the application and monitoring of range guidelines. Achievement of riparian objectives may be affected by management practices on these upland ecosystems. Upland ecosystems include drier (mesic or drier ecological moisture regime) sites where the vegetation is characteristic of the relatively well-drained surrounding uplands.

Each of these broad ecosystems contains one or more range habitat units.

Properly functioning condition

Range use practices will meet riparian area objectives when they maintain properly functioning condition of each habitat unit. Properly functioning condition is maintained where the effects of range use on habitat attributes are 1) on average, small or within the range of natural variability of the habitat unit and 2) are large and beyond the range of natural variability in no more than a small portion of the habitat unit. If the effects of range management are within the range of natural variability over most of the habitat unit, it is likely that the natural ecological functions of the habitat unit will be maintained.

The components of properly functioning condition are described in the following sections. Guidelines for assessing properly functioning condition are described in the section on "Range use in riparian areas."

Desired plant community

Vegetation is a principal habitat attribute that should be evaluated when assessing or monitoring the properly functioning condition of any habitat unit. Vegetation is a principal determinant of wildlife and fisheries habitat value and is also a useful indicator of riparian ecosystem function. Vegetation condition should be evaluated by comparing the composition and structure of the current grazed vegetation to the composition and structure of the desired plant community (DPC).

The DPC is the target plant community of a habitat unit that is to be achieved and maintained through application of the range use plan. The DPC should have the same or very similar composition and structure as the 'natural' plant community (potential natural community), that is the plant community that would dominate the habitat unit had it not experienced domestic livestock use. The DPC should only differ from the 'natural' plant community in those cases where past management practices have resulted in the establishment of non-native species (such as Kentucky bluegrass), which cannot practically be replaced by natural processes. In many cases, the 'natural' plant community can only be estimated, especially if the area has been grazed for many years and similar but ungrazed or very lightly grazed sites (such as enclosures) are not present nearby. For purposes of range guidelines, the 'natural' plant community includes the effects of forest practices other than range use.

The DPC should be described in the range use plan in terms of species composition and vegetation structure. Species composition descriptions should include approximate abundance (per cent ground/canopy cover range) of each principal tree, shrub, grass, and forb species and combined moss and combined lichen species. Vegetation structure descriptions should include the approximate amount (per cent ground/canopy cover) and foliar development of each of the following vegetation layers:

The DPC description should also include the approximate amount (per cent) of exposed mineral soil.

In practical application, it is neither necessary nor feasible to define in detail the DPC and other attributes of properly functioning condition for all range habitat units within the range tenure area. The range manager will generally be aware of those range habitats that are, or likely will be, most affected by range use. These habitat units should be identified and given priority for establishing DPCs and for systematic monitoring of riparian vegetation.

Other components of properly functioning condition

Properly functioning condition also depends on the maintenance of other riparian attributes whose condition in a pasture unit should be assessed relative to their 'natural' condition in the absence of grazing. These attributes include, but are not limited to:

Range use in riparian areas

General guidelines

The following general guidelines address range use practices within and immediately adjacent to riparian areas. Elaboration on these guidelines can be found in the Range Management Guidebook.

Riparian area target conditions

Tables 17–20 describe target conditions for key riparian area attributes and should be used as a basis for assessing properly functioning condition. In most cases, qualitative assessments by knowledgeable individuals will adequately assess whether the intent of these riparian targets have been met. Only in a few cases should systematic, quantitative assessments, requiring a large systematic sample, be required.

In all cases, it is the responsibility of the range tenure holder or B.C. Ministry of Forests to ensure that riparian objectives for range use are being met in all habitat units. However, the range manager will generally be aware of those habitat units that are, or likely will be, most affected by range use. These habitat units should be identified and given priority for systematic monitoring of range use effects. Other habitat units should be observed frequently in the course of normal range management operations. Where observations suggest that riparian objectives may not be met or are near the limits of acceptability, the habitat unit should be assessed and monitored more systematically.

In many cases, current habitat conditions do not meet the targets outlined below. In these cases, the habitat unit and its current conditions should be identified and managed for the target condition. The rate of recovery towards the target should, in general, be approximately 75 per cent of that achieved under total cattle exclusion.

The range tenure holder should contact BC Environment and the B.C. Forest Service regarding values associated with specific riparian areas and appropriate measures to protect these values.

Table 17. Target conditions for range use of stream riparian areas

Table 18. Target conditions for range use of wetland and lake areas

Table 19. Target conditions for range use of moist riparian habitats

Table 20. Target conditions for range use of upland habitats

Restoration and remedial measures

Where restoration or remedial measures are required to meet objectives for riparian areas, measures may include:

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