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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Stream Corridor Restoration Research: a Long and Winding Road

Authors
item Shields Jr, Fletcher
item Cooper, Charles
item Knight, Scott
item Moore, Matthew

Submitted to: Ecological Engineering
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: August 4, 2003
Publication Date: August 5, 2003
Citation: SHIELDS JR, F.D., COOPER, C.M., KNIGHT, S.S., MOORE, M.T. STREAM CORRIDOR RESTORATION RESEARCH: A LONG AND WINDING ROAD. ECOLOGICAL ENGINEERING. 2003. 20:441-454.

Interpretive Summary: Interest in agricultural watershed stream corridor restoration is increasing nationally and internationally. However, the current base of knowledge is inadequate to guide design or preparation of management plans. Research to develop new science is hampered by at least three factors: communication issues regarding the meaning of restoration, the complexity of stream corridor ecosystems, and the difficulty of working with independent landowners to conduct field-scale experiments and implement findings. These problems may be addressed, at least partially, through a hybrid approach involving both ecology and engineering. Three case studies of recently completed research are offered as examples of this approach: incidental positive effects of drainage ditches on water quality, incidental habitat provided by edge of field water control structures, and use of large woody debris structures to control channel erosion. These examples may provide templates for future research and development into practices for agricultural watershed stream corridor restoration.

Technical Abstract: Stream corridor restoration research and practice is presented as an example of the application of ecology and engineering to solve a class of environmental problems. Real progress at the regional and national scale depends on successful research outcomes. Research addressing problems associated with stream corridor ecosystem restoration is beset by numerous problems. First, terms referring to restoration are loosely defined. Secondly, stream ecosystems are not amenable to rigorous experimental design because they are governed by a host of independent variables that are heterogeneous in time and space, they are not scalable, and their response times are often too long for human attention spans. These problems lead to poorly controlled or uncontrolled experiments with outcomes that are not reproducible. Extension of results to other sites or regions is uncertain. Social factors further complicate research and practice riparian landowners may or may not cooperate with the experiment, and application of findings is normally through a process of suboptimal compromise. Economic issues, namely assigning costs for present and future ecosystem services that provide off-site benefits, further impede progress. Clearly, the situation calls for a hybrid approach between the rigor and pessimism of the ecologist and the judgment and pragmatism of the engineer. This hybrid approach can be used to develop creative, low-cost approaches to address key factors limiting recovery.

Last Modified: 4/17/2014
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