Can Stream and Riparian Restoration Offset Climate Change Impacts to Salmon Populations?
Understanding how stream temperature responds to restoration of riparian vegetation and channel morphology in context of future climate change is critical for prioritizing restoration actions and recovering imperiled salmon populations. We used a deterministic water temperature model to investigate potential thermal benefits of riparian reforestation and channel narrowing to Chinook Salmon populations in the Upper Grande Ronde River and Catherine Creek basins in Northeast Oregon, USA. A legacy of intensive land use practices in these basins has significantly reduced streamside vegetation and increased channel width across most of the stream network, resulting in water temperatures that far exceed the optimal range for salmon growth and survival. By combining restoration scenarios with climate change projections, we were able to evaluate whether future climate impacts could be offset by restoration actions. A combination of riparian restoration and channel narrowing was predicted to reduce peak summer water temperatures by 6.5 C on average in the Upper Grande Ronde River and 3.0 C in Catherine Creek in the absence of other perturbations . These results translated to increases in Chinook Salmon parr abundance of 590% and 67% respectively. Although projected climate change impacts on water temperature for the 2080s time period were substantial (i.e., median increase of 2.7 C in the Upper Grande Ronde and 1.5 C in Catherine Creek), we predicted that basin-wide restoration of riparian vegetation and channel width could offset these impacts, reducing peak summer water temperatures by about 3.5 C in the Upper Grande Ronde and 1.8 C in Catherine Creek. These results underscore the potential for riparian and stream channel restoration to mitigate climate change impacts to threatened salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest.
Casey, J., S.M. White, D.A. McCullough, D.S. Graves, and M.R. Blanchard. 2017. Can stream and riparian restoration offset climate change impacts to salmon populations? Journal of Environmental Management 188:212-227.