NRCS Uses Society Results in Restoring Streams

The results of a Wildlife Conservation Society study, which assess the relationship between streamside vegetation and migratory songbirds, are being used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). The agency works with landowners on restoring and protecting the literally million of miles of streams that flow through private lands.

Hilary Cooke and Steve Zack, Ph.D., of the Wildlife Conservation Society conducted the study and the results of their work appear in the July issue of the journal Environmental Management.

The study, which focused on riparian areas in semi-arid eastern Oregon, examined two simple and quick vegetation measurements: The average height and width of woody vegetation such as willows along a floodplain. Increases in woody vegetation led to a greater diversity and abundance of riparian birds including yellow warblers, song sparrows and yellow-breasted chats, the study found.

"Riparian habitat is critical for birds particularly in semi-arid regions of the west, and working with landowners to increase their streamside woody vegetation is an important conservation tool for declining bird populations," said Cooke who is finishing her Ph.D. at the University of Alberta.

The results of the study provide federal managers and private ranchers with an efficient tool for estimating the value of their streams as bird habitat, according to the authors. The NRCS has added these simple measurements to their revised protocol for assessing riparian habitat with private landowners across the nation.

"We feel that adding this wildlife component to our stream assessments will help ensure that both streams and riparian habitats can function better on private lands," said Kathryn Boyer, fisheries biologist for the NRCS who oversees many projects working with private landowners throughout the west.

"As riparian habitat is the most degraded, but most important, habitat in the West, it is imperative to find workable ways to restore our watersheds to ensure that they function to store water, hold soils, and provide habitat to wildlife," said Zack.

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