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Low‐tech riparian and wet meadow restoration increases vegetation productivity and resilience across semiarid rangelands

Silverman, Nicholas L., Allred, Brady W., Donnelly, John Patrick, Chapman, Teresa B., Maestas, Jeremy D., Wheaton, Joseph M., White, Jeff, Naugle, David E.
Restoration ecology 2019 v.27 no.2 pp. 269-278
case studies, cost effectiveness, ecosystems, forage production, grazing management, hydrology, meadows, normalized difference vegetation index, rangelands, remote sensing, satellites, wetlands, wildlife habitats, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon
Restoration of riparian and wet meadow ecosystems in semiarid rangelands of the western United States is a high priority given their ecological and hydrological importance in the region. However, traditional restoration approaches are often intensive and costly, limiting the extent over which they can be applied. Practitioners are increasingly trying new restoration techniques that are more cost‐effective, less intensive, and can more practically scale up to the scope of degradation. Unfortunately, practitioners typically lack resources to undertake outcome‐based evaluations necessary to judge the efficacy of these techniques. In this study, we use freely available, satellite remote sensing to explore changes in vegetation productivity (normalized difference vegetation index) of three distinct, low‐tech, riparian and wet meadow restoration projects. Case studies are presented that range in geographic location (Colorado, Oregon, and Nevada), restoration practice (Zeedyk structures, beaver dam analogs, and grazing management), and time since implementation. Restoration practices resulted in increased vegetation productivity of up to 25% and increased annual persistence of productive vegetation. Improvements in productivity with time since restoration suggest that elevated resilience may further enhance wildlife habitat and increase forage production. Long‐term, documented outcomes of conservation are rare; we hope our findings empower practitioners to further monitor and explore the use of low‐tech methods for restoration of ecohydrologic processes at meaningful spatial scales.