"The Importance of Riparian Corridors"

By Joyce Haynes

The land that borders either side of a stream is called a riparian corridor. As a part of the flood
plain, riparian corridors play an important role in the stream system. Riparian corridors are that
area of the flood plain that is regularly flooded.
For a riparian corridor to function well there should be 100 feet of forested land on either side
of the stream channel. The trees that grow in the corridor are important for creating a healthy
stream system by shading the water from the rays of the sun and keeping it at a moderate
temperature. The leaves that fall from the trees provide organic food material for the food chain.
The roots of the trees help to hold stream banks together with their deep thick root systems, and
trees that fall into the water provide great habitat and cover for fish, aquatic bugs, frogs and a
variety of wildlife.
Wooded areas with a diversity of trees and brushy vegetation help slow the water down before it
passes over the floodplain which reduces erosion on bottom land fields. Landowners who don’t
want to see their land washed away after a flood, can help prevent this by having a healthy riparian
corridor. Another benefit is the corridors ability to collect the sediment, gravel and sand in its
backwaters, and trapping woody debris that could end up in fields.
The corridor’s canopy and the leaf layer below protect the soil from the hard force of rain,
acting like a sponge to slow runoff and reduce erosion. The health of a riparian area can be judged
by its general lack of erosion due to the root systems of the trees that grow near the stream edge. A
wide corridor of trees can usually protect banks, even when floods move some of the streamside
Riparian corridors fail to protect our streams when trees are cut back less than 25 feet from the
bank. Grazed woodlands and fields plowed to the edge of the stream are considered poor stream
management. Paved parking lots and hard surfaces undermine the corridor.
A healthy riparian corridor is beneficial when trees are left along its banks 100 feet or more.
Every part of each tree is important whether it is living or dead. The diversity of plant species that
can be found in a riparian corridor make it attractive to birds and other wildlife. Keeping our
riparian corridors healthy benefits landowners and hunters, as well as recreationists and everyone
in the watershed. A wooded riparian area is a beautiful sight in McDonald County. We can be
responsible for good watershed stewardship; and planting trees along a riparian corridor is a very
good start.
ERWIA is dedicated to restoring and protecting the land and water resources in the Elk River
Watershed, and everyone in the watershed has a role and responsibility. Do you part to help
maintain our watershed! We invite you to join ERWIA, membership is only $5.00 per year. Please
visit our website at www.erwia.org.