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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

Intact riparian corridors necessary for healthy streams

February 2011

by Kevin Collins

The streams that feed the San Lorenzo River begin deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains as headwater creeks. Salmon and other fishes, frogs, and salamanders depend on these streams for their existence.

The quality of these streams as habitat depends on an intact riparian corridor, an area of native trees and understory vegetation. In addition to fish and amphibians, birds and mammals also need intact riparian corridors to live in and move through a landscape humans have altered with cleared fields, roads, and buildings.

There are important sections of our mountain creeks and river systems where the riparian habitat is badly degraded. This deterioration has resulted in the local extirpation of many animals, especially salmon, frogs, salamanders, and certain songbirds.

Land use practices from 100 years ago have led to many houses that are built too close to our creeks. Many homeowners do not understand that riparian trees and shrubs hold riverbanks together and armor these banks during floods. Redwoods and other large trees are especially protective. Nonetheless many property owners have removed the riparian trees and shrubs along their section of stream leaving only bare dirt and shallow rooted grasses. Tree removal warms stream waters because of increased exposure to direct sunlight. Heat kills salmon, and the loss of streamside trees and deep water pools is one of the reasons that Coho salmon populations are not recovering. Our streams would be much deeper, narrower and have more stable channels, if big riparian trees had not been destroyed.

Although Santa Cruz County has a Riparian Corridor ordinance, and the State Department of Fish and Game also has regulations, many homeowners are not aware of the regulations or their benefits to the environment. The Sierra Club is embarking on a major new effort to protect and restore riparian corridors in Santa Cruz County. We need your help with community outreach and education and to lobby County officials. Please contact Kevin Collins, if you can help.

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