CARING FOR YOUR SHORELINE
Riparian areas are shorelines, strips of land beside streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes, and other water bodies. They support a community of moisture-loving plants that are distinctly different from aquatic vegetation and from the plants growing in the drier grasslands and open forests of the Okanagan.
Animals that call riparian areas home...
About 85% of Okanagan wildlife species are dependent upon riparian habitats or use them regularly. Species at risk such as the Great Basin Spadefoot, and the Yellow-breasted Chat depend on these areas for their survival.
Multi-layered canopy, thick underbrush, and diversity of trees and shrubs provide food, nesting sites, shelter and escape cover for wildlife.
Lush vegetation filters sediments and pollutants from storm water runoff, thus cleaning the water.
Provide the much needed shaded, cooler, and moister green belts in the hot Okanagan summers.
Roots provide flood protection by slowing and dissipating high stream flows
Provide green space for human enjoyment such as bird watching, wildlife viewing, and more.
Roots stabilize stream banks thus decreasing soil erosion and siltation.
Provide large woody debris such as stumps, logs, and root wads for the stream. These provide shelter and cover for fish, and other aquatic life.
Fallen leaves provide nutrients for insects which are, in turn, food for fish and other aquatic species.
Overhanging vegetation provides shade, thus shielding water from temperature extremes that may be stressful or even fatal to fish and other aquatic life.
Why is your riparian area so important?
Since the 1800s more than 73% of the riparian areas have been lost in Okanagan Valley. They were negatively affected by agricultural, urban and suburban settlement and development, including forestry and flood control (e.g., Okanagan River Channelization). You can make a difference by taking care of the riparian areas on your land.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR
Become a Wildlife Habitat Steward with the Okanagan-Similkameen Stewardship Society!
There are many simple steps that you can take to help the riparian area on your property. The keys are to prevent water pollution from adjacent lands, to protect the riparian area by making it as wide as possible, and to get as many native riparian shrubs and trees to grow wildly.
Barren and heavily damaged riparian areas adjacent to degraded water bodies will need active restoration such as stabilizing eroding stream banks. We recommend assistance from non-governmental and government agencies that have professionals to help you highlight problem areas, strategize and implement solutions.
Unhealthy riparian areas (left) have fewer trees and shrubs resulting in decreased structural diversity (i.e. fewer plant layers). The result is fewer homes available for wildlife to live in.
A healthy riparian area (right) has
different kinds of trees of varied
ages and heights, a thick
underbrush layer, and other lush
vegetation. There are many places
for wildlife to hide and find food
and clean water. This creates a
more intricate web of life, bringing
with it more stability, productivity,
and reliability for the users and
stewards of riparian areas.
Can you spot the riparian green belts on these aerial photographs?
Prevent water pollution
Any substance that can be carried or dissolved by water can end up in waterways and affect the water quality for wildlife, people, and fisheries. Pollutants should be controlled at the source, even if the source is far away from the water body. Get informed about best management practices.
manure and fertilizer
run off from wet concrete
wood pile leachate
Do not spray pesticides or fertilizers into water bodies. Follow best management practices for spraying. Implement a spray-free buffer zone around all water bodies as indicated on the pesticide label. Buffer zones may vary from 5- 40 metres, depending on the chemical. The BC Environmental Farm Plan Reference Guidebook has excellent information for landowners.
Protect the riparian area
Generally, a riparian setback of at least 30m in width on both sides of a watercourse is recommended for streams up to 20m in width. Streams larger than 20m in width generally require a riparian setback of at least 50m in width on both sides of a watercourse. Narrower leave strips may not protect stream banks from erosion and will be less effective at filtering runoff.
Fencing to delineate the riparian area and protect it from agricultural uses is a practical way to protect your riparian area.
If you have livestock: Fence off the
riparian zone and provide an
alternative watering facility; Improve
livestock distribution by maintaining
groves of trees or a roofed shelter
beyond the riparian zone; Locate
feed and supplements as far away
from the riparian areas as possible
If an alternative watering facility is not
an option, provide an access point for
livestock to limit their disturbance to
a single point along the watercourse.
This is one way to improve water
quality for livestock as well as wildlife
Access points made out of
polyethylene pipe are durable,
require little maintenance, and are
Help the riparian vegetation grow wildly
Treating riparian areas as ‘leave strips’ (simply leaving them alone) often provides the least cost and greatest benefit to agriculture and wildlife habitat alike. If your riparian area is looking a little barren, you can enhance it by planting native riparian plants. Make sure to plants species that naturally occur in riparian areas in your region. New plants will need to be watered regularly for the first two years, until their roots become established. After that time, it’s up to nature to water them!
Some excellent riparian appropriate native plants:
Protect wildlife trees
A wildlife tree is any standing live or dead tree with characteristics that provide valuable habitat for wildlife. Dead trees can sometimes provide valuable wildlife habitat for hundreds of years! Allow a new generation of trees to mature and die off naturally. Leave dead trees standing where safe to do so.
You can also install bird boxes, bat boxes, and raptor platforms which all provide nesting, roosting, and perching locations for a variety of birds and bats.
For more information visit:
Be a weed warrior
Familiarize yourself with invasive non-native
plants and take action against them.
Remove invasive non-native plants to allow for some natural re-vegetation and reduce competition with any new plantings.
Plant native riparian trees and shrubs in areas impacted by weeds.
Monitor recovery of native species and remove any new weeds.
Encourage adjacent property owners to participate in a
cooperative long-term weed control program.
For more information visit
Sustainable Agriculture Tip: Nest boxes
Sustainable Agriculture Tip: Wildlife corridors
Sustainable Agriculture Tip: Eliminate pesticide use
It is important to remember that Canada’s fisheries habitat protection laws and provincial legislation could affect riparian restoration plans. BC Environment and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans should be contacted before any work in or near water is conducted, to determine the project’s impact on fisheries.