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Riparian Forests

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Newly planted trees and fence installation along the Luckiamute River.

Riparian areas are defined by NRCS as ecosystems that occur along waterways and water bodies. They serve as the transition between aquatic and terrestrial zones. Properly managed riparian areas provide property owners and the environment with numerous benefits. For example, plant roots provide the bank with increased stability and minimize sediment runoff. Riparian buffers should be at least 25 to 100 feet wide depending on surrounding land uses. A healthy riparian area is highly vegetated with native shrubs and trees, shades the waterway, and contains an abundance of woody and organic debris.

Healthy Riparian Areas… 

  • Improve water quality. 
  • Reduce flooding. 
  • Decrease erosion. 
  • Protect fish habitat. 
  • Provide nutrients. 
  • Enhance wildlife habitat.


Riparian areas are defined as the strip of land bordering a stream, lake or wetland, plus the zone influencing this area (5). Riparian habitats also include springs, seeps, and intermittent streams, and many low elevation alluvial floodplains confined by valleys and inlets. (11) The riparian area can vary in width but primarily it functions as a transition zone between the edge of the water and the uplands. Riparian habitats are shaped and maintained through seasonal flooding, scour, and soil deposition. Riparian habitats vary from sparsely vegetated areas to cottonwood gallery forests (bottomland forests). Plant composition is influenced by elevation, stream gradient, floodplain width, and flooding events (5). Floods replenish nutrients, recharge groundwater, and reset successional processes. Throughout most of the state, riparian vegetation is mostly dominated by deciduous trees and shrubs, but conifers dominate riparian woodlands at higher elevations (10).



Riparian vegetation includes the trees and shrubs below or combinations of them:

Western red cedarGrand fir
Black cottonwoodWhite alder
Red alderBig-leaf maple
Oregon ashBitter cherry
Arroyo willowPacific willow
Garry oakPacific dogwood
Vine mapleCurrants
Swamp rose or Cluster roseSnowberry
Douglas spireaBlackberries
SalmonberryIndian Plum
Red-osier dogwoodWillows


PorcupineLong tailed weasel
SkunkNorthern river otter
BobcatBlack-tailed deer
Red tailed hawkSharpshin hawk
Mourning doveBelted kingfisher
Northern flickerWillow flycatcher
Swainson s thrushRed eyed vireo
Many warblersWestern tanager

Neo-tropical migrant songbirds pass through and some nest in riparian forests. (9)