Fact Sheets Shed Light on North Dakota Riparian...

Fact Sheets Shed Light on North Dakota Riparian Ecosystem

Fact Sheets Shed Light on North Dakota Riparian Ecosystem


A graduate student from North Dakota State University created five extension fact sheets after monitoring and reporting on the riparian ecosystem associated with the Middle Sheyenne River, a perennial stream in eastern North Dakota.

Miranda Meehan first became interested in plant communities and best management practices when she attended ND Youth Range Camp for the first time. It eventually led her down a path to range management. Meehan had been researching plant communities in ND, becoming familiar with the ecological processes taking place within these communities. She wanted to do an inventory and condition determination of the grazed areas of the Middle Sheyenne’s riparian corridor.

A riparian zone or riparian area is the interface between land and a river or stream. Riparian ecosystems are transitional ecosystems occurring between terrestrial ecosystems, where hydrology has little influence, and aquatic ecosystems where hydrology has a significant impact on ecosystem function and formation (Gregory et al. 1991; Naiman et al. 1993; Svejcar 1997). Plant communities associated with the riparian ecosystem of the Middle Sheyenne include: the greenline, woodlands, shrublands, grasslands, and wetlands.

“The majority of the riparian corridor of the Middle Sheyenne is forest, native rangeland, or undisturbed grassland. Currently, most of this area is utilized for forage by domestic livestock in animal production systems,” said Meehan. “Increased information concerning the plant communities and proper grazing management of the riparian corridors of the Middle Sheyenne will help ranchers utilize these areas in a way that is both sustainable and profitable.”

In 2009, Meehan submitted a proposal to the NCR-SARE Graduate Student Grant Program and received $9,528 to identify the natural sustainable plant communities and best management practices of the Middle Sheyenne watershed through ecological site description development, and provide rangeland technical assistance through media development and consultation with relevant land managers. She developed ecological site descriptions which are reports that describe anecosystem’s resources and dynamics.

These reports allow landowners and/or land managers to identify, assess, predict change, manage, restore, and monitor ecosystems under their management. Her state-and-transition model synthesizes both science-based and local knowledge to formally represent the dynamics of the Middle Sheyenne’s riparian corridor.

Meehan’s ecological site descriptions and state-and-transition model describe channel morphology, community phases, and plant community components associated with each state. She hopes her description of environmental and anthropogenic disturbances triggering transitions between states and community phases within the Middle Sheyenne’s riparian ecosystem will help aid in the establishment of realistic goals for restoration and maintenance of natural, sustainable communities.

“The overall benefits really are seen at the landscape level, in recognizing the present state the riparian zones are in, then identifying the management strategies that best fit the landscape to reduce erosion, stabilize or improve the riparian zones, and improve water quality to downstream users,” said Meehan.

A series of five NDSU extension fact sheets on riparian ecosystem and grazing management recommendation within riparian ecosystems were developed as a result of Meehan’s project.

Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) GNC09-113, Maintenance of Natural Sustainable Riparian Communities Located Within the Middle Sheyenne Watershed .

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This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.