Get your feet wet with streambank monitoring basics!

© 2018-Sublette Examiner

The range crew of the Sublette County Conservation District (SCCD) has been diligently working on both Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) upland monitoring. As the water starts to get closer to base flows, we can start moving into the riparian areas and monitoring the vegetation along the water’s edge, otherwise known as greenlines.

As you may have heard from our staff many times before, monitoring vegetation is important for land managers to understand the effects of certain types of management on the landscape. Land managers include you, as a landowner, as well as our local, state and federal agency staff.

Riparian areas are critical to monitor, whether on federal, state or private lands. The lush vegetation in riparian areas is attractive to all types of domestic livestock and wildlife. Riparian areas, or those vegetative areas along the water’s edge, are also critical in catchment of sediment from the uplands, filtering nutrients and protecting stream health. Riparian areas also provide unique habitat characteristics for a variety of smaller wildlife and tend to have high vegetative diversity.

In Sublette County, very few acres constitute riparian areas in comparison to the amount of rangelands and forested ecosystems. Their critical role in the watershed, however, increases the need for proper management. In order to understand management, land stewards are encouraged to monitor management effects on the land.

According to the Rosgen Stream Classification, there are eight different types of stream channels. Some streams are what they call “braided systems” (think the Hoback River in Bondurant), which tend to experience large flashes of water to the system where the water must find the path of least resistance; other streams have greater slope and are armored with rock and trees – these systems tend to be in the forest (think Kilgore Creek); and yet there are other streams that are on flatter slopes and have a lot of bends in them (think Duck Creek).

These different stream-channel types vary in susceptibility to changes in management. The flashy system in the Hoback won’t necessarily reflect changes regarding a 100-acre fire in the watershed; however, the Cliff Creek Fire (approx. 40,000 acres), which altered hydrology in the area, had noticeable effects on water quality in the Hoback River during spring runoff.

Armored streams with large boulders and trees to protect its greenline will also not show great changes in herd size on a small acreage since livestock tend not to utilize those areas as much. Riparian areas that are flatter and are dominated by grasses and sedges are the sites to monitor as they will be the first sites to show a positive (or negative) change in regards to management. Therefore, before setting up any type of monitoring protocol, it is important to “stratify” the riparian area within the boundaries of the land parcel that interests you to ensure that the data collected will properly inform you.

For example, “Joe Rancher” has calculated available forage for his livestock and found he is able to increase his herd size by 30 head. As additional income, Mr. Rancher also runs a fishing ranch and wants to ensure that the fish habitat in his blue-ribbon trout stream is not negatively affected by the increase in herd size.

Mr. Rancher has noticed over the years that certain reaches of the stream have a slight slope, have larger gravels on the bottom and larger willow stands. Other reaches flatten and are more sedge and grass-dominated. Mr. Rancher acquired an aerial photo from his local conservation district, and with the help of the staff and a quick site visit, he was able to delineate the different parts of the stream that were willow dominated or grass dominated.

After a little research, he decided to take photos of the stream each season, choosing to monitor the reach that was grass and sedge dominated. He chose to take pictures before and after grazing, looking both upstream and downstream from a known location along the streambank. Joe Rancher also has a goal to maintain vegetative height on the greenline at 5 inches. Joe Rancher plans to take vegetation height measurements throughout the grazing season to ensure that he maintains a healthy vegetative stand along the greenline and if he is close to exceeding his trigger of 5 inches, then Joe Rancher will move the livestock in to a different pasture.

Monitoring doesn’t have to be as extensive or time-consuming as many think that it is. The time spent monitoring depends greatly on how many acres you have and variety of vegetative types, as well as your goals and objectives as a landowner or land manager. On average, the small acreages we have monitored take as little as one to three days throughout the summer. Sometimes, it only takes a couple of hours!

If you are interested in monitoring on your private, state or federal lands, please contact Sublette County Conservation District, your local Natural Resources Conservation Service, and your Range Specialists at the USFS and BLM.

Healthy rangelands=healthy community!

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