Ecological Restoration: Climate Change Makes River Restoration Critical

A new peer-reviewed paper published in the September 2009 issue of Ecological Restoration concludes “climate change makes riparian restoration more important than ever.” This logical conclusion is backed by research, and the authors make recommendations for practice implementation. Once again, we are reminded of the far reaching ramifications of climate change and how we need to prepare now.

Climate change makes river restoration crucial.

Climate change makes river restoration crucial. / Photo by nicholas_t

Traditionally, river restoration has focused on habitat loss, species invasion, and pollution; however, Ecological Restoration supports a shift in riparian rehabilitation to include prepartion for climate change in addition to these other concerns. Riparian ecosystems need to be made resilient, as climate change will cause them to “face increases in air and surface water temperatures, alterations in the magnitude and seasonality of precipitation and run-off, and shifts in reproductive phenology and distribution of plants and animals”.

World Wire reports on the article:

In the paper, the scientists discuss the importance of replanting riparian vegetation and ensuring that rivers have sufficient water to maintain flows that benefit birds, fish and other wildlife, and human communities. Based on these and other benefits of riparian restoration, the authors recommend that river restoration activities continue and expand as the climate changes…The authors also discuss the need to modify restoration strategies to prepare for the uncertain conditions predicted to accompany climate change, and for ongoing research and monitoring to evaluate and improve restoration practices. Recommendations include planting a mix of riparian plants that are both drought and flood tolerant, ensuring that rivers have sufficient water to provide for periodic flooding of natural areas, and increasing habitat restoration on private lands.

Seven organizations contributed to the research and recommendations, including PRBO Conservation Science, Environmental Defense Fund, Audubon California, River Partners, The Nature Conservancy, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The authors conclude:

Given that many riparian systems are highly degraded from a long history of anthropogenic activities (Tockner and Stanford 2002, Zedler and Kercher 2005), we are now faced with a decision about whether to continue investing resources to treat these ecosystems. Functional riparian systems have tremendous potential to reduce the adverse effects of climate change by enhancing ecosystem resilience. To benefit from this capacity, we urgently need riparian restoration and the science that guides it.

The sense of urgency surrounding climate change will hopefully translate into action for our rivers. It’s important we protect our rivers from the inevitable impact of climate change.

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Author: Jennifer Lance

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