Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Riparian Areas of South Dakota
Riparian Areas, Uplands and Associated Watersheds
"Riparian area" describes the unique plant and animal community found immediately
adjacent to water (streams, springs, rivers, ponds and lakes). A riparian area
is identified by vegetation that requires water in amounts greater than that
which falls as precipitation. Wetland habitat includes riparian areas and associated
aquatic habitat such as streams, shallow ponds and wet meadows.
A watershed is the land area serving as a collecting basin for snowmelt and
rainfall. It provides water flow for streams and rivers. Watersheds are separated
from one another by topographical features such as ridges or mountains. A
watershed functions to catch and store precipitation, slowly releasing this
water into the stream channel throughout the year. Healthy watershed vegetation
influences the timing, quality and quantity of water release, thereby affecting
the condition of riparian areas.
Management of Riparian Areas and Their Uplands
Watersheds are comprised of many inter-connected upland and lowland (riparian)
parts. It is important to realize that these parts function together as an ecological
unit. Deterioration of one part has a negative impact on other parts of the
Land use Impacts Riparian Areas
There are many different land uses in a watershed, such as, cropland, grazing
land, recreation land, farmsteads and towns or cities. In South Dakota, the
major land uses that impact the riparian zones are cropland, grazing land
and urban lands. All land must be managed to keep our resources healthy and
Cropland occurs in the upland portion of the watershed and produces the food
and fiber we need to exist. Runoff must be managed to minimize soil erosion
and ensure that nutrients or pesticides applied for weed control and crop
production do not enter the streamflow.
The best and most productive management of livestock grazing in riparian areas
requires the understanding that:
- Grazing practices and techniques used to improve or maintain forage production
and quality in the uplands may not be the same practices used to manage
a healthy riparian area.
- Continuous or season long grazing is not an option to improve a deteriorated
riparian area or to maintain a riparian area in a healthy condition.
Key factors to Consider
- Utilization level - Leave at least a 1/2 of stubble height at the end
of the growing season
- Season of use - early season grazing after banks have firmed up is least
- Length of grazing period - plants should only be grazed once before moving
- Frequency of grazing - allowing key forage plants to fully recover before
- Critical times - move livestock out of riparian areas during critical
periods such as:
Excessive wet seasons
Early and late season growth periods
August and September when woody vegetation is very palatable to livestock
Opportunities for Success
putting the principles of good grass management into practice you can achieve
a number of benefits from riparian areas.
Protect vegetation during vulnerable stages
- protect banks from trampling when fragile,
- protect brush species during periods of dormancy,
- maintain productive forage species.
- rest and regrowth produce vigorous, productive riparian plants,
- energy stored in roots will sustain healthy riparian growth,
- healthy plants build strong stream banks,
- plant species diversity adds forage and shelter values.
Protective vegetation during high flows
- dissipates stream horsepower,
- traps sediments/build banks,
- builds ground water reserves,
- maintains stream channel shape.
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