River and stream restoration involves the modification of a disturbed condition to re-establish physical channel and bank features of riparian plant communities bordering a particular river or stream reach. On the Fall River, stream-bank restoration is a priority conservation issue due to the severity and frequency of highly degraded and eroding stream-banks through-out the watershed. One of the central issues of concern is that the Fall River lacks a healthy riparian corridor where riparian trees and shrubs stabilize the banks, shade the river and provide habitat for birds and other species of wildlife.
It can be problematic for riparian vegetation to establish and grow in many areas in the river, especially where cattle graze and have un-restricted access to the river for water. At the Fall River Conservancy, it is the goal of our stream-bank restoration program to restore these riparian areas, while also working with farmers to ensure the needs of their cattle and their herds are met. We believe that true conservation comes from partnerships that create mutually beneficial outcomes.
Developing Mutually Beneficial Solutions to Conservation Issues:
For farmers across the United States and in the Fall River Valley, ensuring cool, clean and reliable access to water for livestock is one of the most important considerations for herd management. When livestock are allowed access to drink directly from the river, there can often be negative consequences for the river and the cattle themselves. It is common for cattle to trample and erode stream bottoms, stream banks, and stream-side vegetation as they seek water to cool themselves and drink. Overall, this can result in increased sediment, erosion and nutrient runoff, while decreasing stream-bank stability. On the Fall River, the issue of cattle trampling is compounded by the presence of massive muskrat burrows that collapse when trampled by cows repeatedly. Collapsed muskrat holes and unstable banks can be problematic for cattle because of the increased likelihood of leg injuries, or issues regarding cattle getting “stuck” in collapsed holes.
One solution to these issues are to work with willing landowners to put in cattle exclusion fences, and stock-watering troughs. The riparian fencing restricts (either permanently, or intermittently) cattle from accessing the river, and instead provides reliable clean and cool water at stock-watering troughs that are located off of the river. This creates a conservation practice that is mutually beneficial for all partners, and allows the riparian corridor to re-establish trees, shrubs and ecological function.
Prioritizing Project Locations:
The first step in assessing stream-bank restoration needs was to complete an assessment of bank-damage in the river. The Fall River Conservancy mapped the river on a coarse level by assessing visually the perceived stream-bank damage through-out the river. This was an important step that helped us identify where priority conservation actions are needed, and how we could work with landowners to create meaningful conservation solutions. It is important to note that streambank damage in the Fall River is not only attributed to cattle, but a multitude of natural and non-natural factors that in concert contribute to the overall health of streambanks.
Project Identification and Goals:
After prioritizing several areas of the river for stream-bank restoration, the Fall River Conservancy began working with conservation partners to assess where we could create meaningful restoration for the river. In partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), we began working with a willing landowner on the Fall River, who was open to put in cattle exclusion fencing, stock-watering facilities and riparian planting on their property. This is a great example of the Fall River committing to its mission to preserve the biological, scenic, cultural and agricultural heritage of the Fall River Valley by conserving for present and future generations the Valley’s extraordinary lands, waters and wildlife resources. We strongly believe working agricultural landscapes are an integral part of the heritage and future of the Fall River Valley that need to be preserved as well. It is with this partnership moving forward that the Fall River Conservancy has committed to:
- fencing over 3.5 miles of degraded stream-banks on the Fall River
- replacing river access for cattle with stock-watering facilities
- replanting riparian shrubs and trees
We are excited to put your conservation dollars to work on this important project and we look forward to providing updates as this project progresses.