- Riparian ecosystems play numerous and essential roles related to the quality and
flow of water, and food/habitat for fish, and varieties of wildlife. Due to lateral and linear linkages throughout the landscape, these zones influence the integrity of the terrestrial as well as the entire aquatic-riverine ecosystem. Since Euro-American settlement in the West, the structure and condition of many riparian ecosystems has been significantly altered. To provide tools and an ecological perspective related to riparian restoration and management, and to document late 20th century headwater riparian structure and biomass in the Upper Grande Ronde Basin, this research project was undertaken. At Meadow Creek, the response of riparian hardwood species to the termination of livestock grazing was quantified. Regression equations were developed to predict shrub biomass. Permanently marked hardwood plants were measured annually to quantify parameters of growth (height, crown area, mainstem diameter, number of stems, biomass).
Permanent belt transects on gravel bars were utilized to quantify rates of shrub
establishment. Elk/deer-proof exclosures allowed the quantification of the browsing
influence of wild ungulates. In 1991, initial shrub heights and densities reflected decades of grazing pressure. Mean heights of515 woody plants (14 species) was 47 cm and densities on gravel bars averaged 10.7 plants/100m². After two seasons without livestock grazing, mean crown volumes of willows (Salix spp.) increased 550% inside of wild ungulate exclosures and 195% outside, black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) 773% inside and 808% outside, and thin-leaf alder (Almis incana) 1046% inside and 198% outside, respectively. Willows were significantly impeded (p<0.Ol) mule deer and Rocky Mountain elk, alder samples were too small to statistically test, and cottonwood was not significantly impeded. However, impacts by deer and elk may be exaggerated due to high densities and the ungulate density-dynamics unique within the 77 km² Starkey Experimental Forest big-game enclosure surrounding the study site. Establishment rates are low at this time, i.e., only 10% of previously suppressed willows produced catkins. Although in transects densities increased by 5 new woody plants/lOOm² (50m of streambank). Other non-anthropogenic factors influencing the recovery of shrubs, included beaver which removed mainstems from 20% of willows, 11% of thin-leaf alder, and 4% of black cottonwood, and active insect defoliation which was noted on 16% of willows, 7% of thin-leaf alder, and 0% of black cottonwood. Crude protein levels measured in willow and alder leaves was relatively high (16.1 to 16.3%) helping to explain their palatability and use by wild and domestic herbivores. Few studies have quantified biomass, structure and composition of headwater riparian ecosystems. Data such as this are important given their dominant roles in ecosystem biodiversity, and aquatic function. To document relatively intact forested headwater ripanan conditions in the Upper Grande Ronde Basin, the biomass, structure
and composition along six headwater reaches was quantified. Sampling was done using a
nested belt transect/plot arrangement along 500 meter reaches. Total aboveground biomass (TAGB) ranged from 203 to 261 Mg/ha, with overstory conifers contributing 101 to 177 Mg/ha. Living understory components (saplings, seedlings, shrubs, and herbs)
comprised 5 to 18 Mg/ha (2 to 9% of TAGB), while forest floor detrital accumulations
comprised 65 to 101 Mg/ha (29 to 42% of TAGB). Average shade per day for July, 1993
ranged between 53% and 75%, reducing the unshaded solar energy potential of 2390
Mj/day to between 680 and 1280 Mj/day striking each m² of stream surface. This baseline reference information can serve in multi-disciplined research, as well as, be a basis for long term studies of natural systems responding to changing climate and different resource management scenarios.