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. Many endangered and Threatened species such as the Great Basin Spadefoot, Western Screech-owl and Yellow-breasted Chat depend on these areas for their survival.
Why is your riparian area so important?
Thick vegetation at the creek edge will filter sediments and pollutants from storm water runoff, thus cleaning the water before it flows downstream
Tree and plant roots provide flood protection by slowing and dissipating high stream flows. They also stabilize stream banks and decrease soil erosion.
Multi-layered canopy, thick underbrush, and diversity of trees and shrubs provide food, nesting sites, shelter and escape cover for wildlife.
Large rotting woody pieces such as stumps, fallen logs, and root wads provide shelter and cover for fish, frogs, small mammals, and other aquatic life. Rotting fallen leaves provide nutrients for insects which are, in turn, food for a wide variety of wildlife species
Overhanging vegetation creates cool shady areas, thus providing critical refuge for wildlife (and humans!) during hot Okanagan summers. Shady areas also keep the water cooler, preventing heat stress and even eventual death of fish and other aquatic life.
Since the 1800s, 70% of the riparian forest in the Okanagan Valley have disappeared, lost to urban and agricultural development, forestry, and flood control (i.e. channelization). You can help make a difference by taking care of the riparian areas on your land.
CARING FOR SHORELINE AREAS
There are many simple steps that you can take to help the riparian (shoreline) area on your property. The important things are to prevent water pollution from adjacent lands and to get as many native riparian shrubs and trees as possible to grow in a thick buffer along the stream edge.
Barren and heavily damaged riparian areas may need active restoration such as stabilizing eroding stream banks with riprap or similar. 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, and lower quality, homes available for wildlife.
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 laces 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.
Sustainable Agriculture Tip: Nest boxes
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.
Common pollutants include:
manure and fertilizer
fuel or chemical runoff from concrete
wood pile leachate
Be sure to follow all instructions and best management practices for spraying and never spray pesticides or fertilizers into water bodies. Implement a spray-free buffer zone around all water bodies as indicated on the pesticide label.These buffer zones may vary from 5- 40 metres, depending on the chemical.
The BC Environmental Farm Plan Reference Guidebook has excellent information for landowners.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
Some best management practices
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 around riparian areas is a simple way to protect it from agricultural uses is a practical way to keep your riparian area healthy and functional.
If you have livestock who need the riparian area for water, a "nose-in" area of fence is an excellent way to compromise. Nose-ins (below) are simply a short length of fence that juts into the water and allows the animals to access the water at just one point instead of disturbing the whole area with unregulated access along the entire bank .
Other methods of helping maintain riparian areas include placing feed/supplements away from the riparian zone to stop livestock from spending too much time in the riparian zone and improving overall livestock distribution by maintaining other groves of trees or shelters to attract them away from congregating around the water.
Help riparian vegetation grow.
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 also enhance it by planting native riparian plants. Make sure to plant species that naturally occur in riparian areas in your region. New plants will need to be watered occasionally for the first two years until their roots become established but after that it’s up to nature to water them!
Some excellent riparian-appropriate native plants:
Willows (native species)
Protect wildlife trees
A wildlife tree is any standing live or dead tree with features that provide valuable habitat for wildlife. Dead trees are easier to excavate into and wildilfe trees provide valuable habitat to wildlife species for many decades, so try to leave them when it is safe to do so. You can also avoid tidying your riparian area and allow a new generation of trees to mature and die off naturally.
You can also install several different types of bird boxes, or raptor platforms and tall T-posts, which all provide lots of nesting, roosting, and perching locations for a variety of songbirds and helpful birds-of-prey.
For more information visit:
Be a weed warrior
Invasive plants are aggressive plant species that have come to our area from other countries and that out-compete our native plants, disrupting the balance of the habitat. To manage invasive species on your property:
Remove invasive 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 on these invasive species as well as many others you may find on your property, visit https://bcinvasives.ca
Canada’s fisheries, habitat protection laws, and provincial legislation could affect riparian restoration plans. Before any work is started in or around a water body, contact your local government to ensure any and all permitting rules are followed