What does “riparian” mean and why do we need a Riparian Management Plan?

By Dorothy Hagan, Tri-State Watershed Alliance Board Member

St. Marys River, Fort Wayne (Tri-State Watershed Alliance)

| Riparian areas are traditionally defined as the transition or interface between upland areas and wetter areas. Riparian areas can exist along the margins of creeks, rivers, ponds, lakes, wetlands and bays. This paper will focus on the management of riparian areas that exist along our downtown Fort Wayne (Indiana) rivers.

The value of riparian areas in the landscape far exceeds their relatively small size. In most settings, the actual riparian area makes up only one to five percent of the total land area, but the ecological, hydrological, economic and human values of these areas is actually much greater. When considering the management of riparian areas, there is one guiding principle that needs to be remembered: Riparian areas are special places; they need preferential treatment.[1]

The management of riparian areas should strive to create or improve water-catching conditions that keep water on the land longer. Appropriate riparian vegetation is the key component that determines the water catching, water slowing, and water holding capacity of riparian areas. Successful riparian management requires adjacent landowners to work cooperatively toward mutual goals of land and water conservation.

Riparian authority Wayne Elmore, of the National Riparian Service Team, speaks from more than 40 years of direct riparian experience as he summarizes the importance of a cooperative grassroots approach in dealing with riparian issues:

“Riparian restoration will not happen by regulation, changes in the law, more money, or any of the normal bureaucratic approaches. It will only occur through the integration of ecological, economic,and social factors, and the active involvement of affected people.“

This truth does not negate the value of appropriate regulations, financial resources or governmental assistance; it merely points out that people who are actively and cooperatively engaged in riparian issues are the most valuable asset. When citizens share a common understanding and appreciation for riparian resources – this is a first critical step toward good riparian management.[2]

Riparian Management Plan

A Riparian Management Plan will provide baseline data on existing conditions, offer management strategies for invasive species, recommend specific treatment methods, identify important viewsheds, and implement appropriate clearing/pruning strategies and techniques for the specified area. Typical components addressed in a Riparian Management Plan include: riparian vegetation, stream restoration, invasive species management, herbivory management, riparian viewshed management and large woody debris management.

Fort Wayne has prioritized the work along the downtown riverfront and has divided the work into three primary areas: invasive species removal, bank stabilization and riparian buffer restoration.

Initiative 1 – Remove invasive species.

Invasive honeysuckle, tree of heaven, and Japanese knotweed have suppressed growth of a native understory. Knotweed is the most damaging and should be removed immediately. The task will require removal of the entire plant and root system as this plant proliferates by seed, stem, and rhizome. 

Initiative 2 – Stabilize banks with native plantings and reintroduce natives to understory/ canopy.

Silver maple, box elder, marshmallow, catalpa, eastern redbud, flowering dogwood, red osier dogwood, elm, honey locust, yellow daylily, yellow flag iris, Virginia creeper, sycamore, eastern cottonwood, pin cherry, oak, black locust, raspberry, willow, lamb’s ear, clover, and grape vine are all examples of riparian plants that currently grow in the area and are acceptable to replant. Vegetation, especially with tight knit root systems, would prevent further erosion on steep riverbanks. 

Initiative 3 – Continue riparian plants into the parks, promenade, and streetscape.

Select riparian plants are able to tolerate less than ideal conditions. Many also promote storm water filtration better than other species because of their ability to uptake large quantities of water. Elms, oaks, honey locusts, and maples are particularly suited for the urban streetscape.

Other problems like fallen trees in the rivers and piling up at the dams are also being discussed as a necessary maintenance duty as more and more boaters use our rivers. As the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department staff becomes more familiar with the duties and responsibilities of a riparian manager, priorities may well be adjusted to best suit our community and citizens. However organizations like TSWA will continue to bring in the needed programs and volunteer resources to help improve our rivers.

[1] Steve Nelle, Managing Riparian Areas (Nueces River Authority, 2014).

[2] Ibid.


City of Fort Wayne Riparian Management Plan

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