Stream channels form as a means of transporting water, sediment and wood from forested headwaters downhill. Channels develop and wildlife has evolved to adapt to this dynamic environment. Many forest streams have been impaired by previous practices including dredging, dams, straightening, mining, and road crossings. Currently, modification of stream channels is heavily regulated in California, but many legacy impacts exist that can be mitigated by stream management practices or active restoration. For more on maintaining health forest streams, please see the UCCE publication: Forest Stewardship Series 9 Forest Streams.
A key to maintaining healthy stream channels is to protect and enhance the riparian vegetation growing along it. Riparian vegetation performs important ecological functions including serving as terrestrial and aquatic habitat, stabilizing stream banks, providing shade and large woody debris that adds complexity to stream beds to improve fish habitat. Removal of this vegetation can trigger degradation and instability of streams leading to erosion and washing away of stream side property. Maintenance of buffer strips where no development occurs next to stream channels is one of the best ways to protect riparian vegetation and is required when many projects including timber harvest are done. For more information on how to maintain or improve riparian vegetation along forest streams, please see the UCCE publication: Forest Stewardship Series 10 Riparian Vegetation.
Since forest management and other land use activities have impacts on water quality, it is important to understand what water quality is, how it is measured and how to protect it. The quality of water coming from forest lands is vital for human use, but also for sustaining aquatic life, irrigation, swimming and recreation, navigation and hydropower generation. Water quality indicators include clarity (turbidity), chemical content (pesticides, nutrients, petroleum products etc), bacterial content and temperature (in relation to the tolerance levels of aquatic organisms). Best management practices to maintain water quality in forested streams are listed in this UCCE publication: Forest Stewardship Series 11 Forest Water Quality.
Fish and Fish Habitat
Other UC Resources:
California produced an issue of the Forestland Steward newsletter on the Myriad Benefits of Mountain Meadows in Fall 2011.