Riparian Zones on Wild About Utah

Jun 22, 2018

Summer’s heat has turned on. It was evident in a dramatic fashion as I ran a ridge in N. Utah where the early am temps were near 70 degrees, flowers had faded, and the absence of birdsong. 

As I descended to the canyon bottom the temperature dropped a solid 20 degrees and bird voices returned where yellow warblers were competing with lazuli buntings for top songster. I had entered the riparian, or riverside biotic community- from the burnt brown of cheatgrass above to the lush “green zone” below supporting abundant life in our desert state. I won’t be running ridge tops any time soon!

Throughout the Intermountain West and Great Basin, these givers of life are critical areas for water, wildlife, agriculture, and recreation. About 80 % of all animal life is dependent on streamside habit sometime during its life cycle. As a birder and botanist, this is where I spend much of my time documenting and enjoying the abundance.

On a recent, brief bird survey along the Logan River golf course trail, I recorded 33 species with another ten or so known to nest in this river corridor. I’m planning to prepare a bird checklist for golfers to add more “birdies” to their scorecard.

Many of these special places have been seriously degraded through the invasion of exotic species, agricultural practices, various forms of development, and channelization. But help is on the way.

The Logan River Task Force is one excellent example. Launched in 2016, the task force is well on its way to restoring a much healthier, biologically rich river system. Replacing crack willow, a Eurasian non-native tree, with native cottonwood and willow accompanied by a rich understory of shrubs, will significantly enhance the biodiversity along the floodplain. Another major change is underway as they replace the straight, channelized portion of the river to its meandering original channel. This will create more pools for fish, wetlands for flood control and filtering while improving aesthetics and recreation opportunity.

In an earlier WAU reading, I mentioned the good work being done by western boxelder ranchers reintroducing beaver whose dams will assist with maintaining stream flow and water quality along with improved fish and wildlife habitat. I’m aware of the same occurring on a Mink Creek ranch in SE Idaho.

The world appears to be awakening to the many values of these critical wildlife and water quality riparian zones, as I awoke to the same on my early morning run.