Riparian systems are essential to maintaining key ecosystem services such as water regulation, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and forage for grazing livestock. In some instances, removal of natural hydrological features (beaver dams) and heavy livestock utilization has caused degradation, stream bank erosion, channel incisions, and head-cutting. The result is soil erosion, poor water quality, loss of wildlife habitat, and reduced grassland economic potential. Recent research has been conducted on the use of low-cost, low-tech tools (LCLTT) that mimic beaver dams as a method for restoring riparian health. LCLTT such as beaver dam analogs (BDAs) have successfully been implemented in the Western U.S. to restore ecosystem services within degraded small and ephemeral streams and wet meadows. These earthen, natural material structures slow and disperse water, dissipate energy, and restore natural floodplains, improving soil water retention and increasing riparian vegetation. Despite benefits, LCLTT have not been adopted in North Central Region (NCR) grasslands due to lack of knowledge, producer apprehension and skepticism surrounding beavers, and a lack of trained technical experts and producer peer mentors. Thus, without research, extension, and educational programs to teach producers about the benefits of LCLTT and their role in riparian and rangeland health, riparian systems within the NCR will likely continue to see a decline in both environmental quality and profitability.
For this project our objectives are to 1) research the impact of LCLTT on soil moisture, riparian vegetation, and biomass production and 2) develop on-site demonstrations, trainings, and workshops for producers and technical experts on the implementation of LCLTT to improve hydrological function. We will specifically research the impact and efficacy of LCLTT on forage production, plant community composition, and soil moisture at a research field station and on producer ranches. We will test, demonstrate, and monitor practices in local settings with producers, allowing them to implement their grazing plans in conjunction with our work. Our inter-disciplinary team (range ecology and management and riparian health ecology) will work with producer participants to host field tours and workshops throughout the project to highlight successes and any limitations that arise. This will allow for flowing conversations to occur between producers and technical experts about potential adoption of LCLTT and will therefore create a holistic understanding of implementing LCLTT in the NCR. Overall, our long-term goal is to improve watershed health at landscape scales in grassland ecosystems and educate producers about the benefits of LCLTT.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Research LCLTT’s impact on forage production, plant community composition, and soil moisture.
- Implement LCLTT on cooperating ranches and at a research field station.
- Teach technical experts and producers about LCLTT through trainings and workshops.
- Learn how to deploy LCLTT on public and private lands.
- Educate producers on riparian health.
- Technical experts construct LCLTT on public lands; assist producers on private lands.
- Producers more widely accept LCLTT and implement LCTT on their operations.
- Improved riparian health means less soil erosion, improved wildlife habitat and ranch profitability.