Protecting our streams by defining measurable targets for riparian management in a forestry context.

Published online
21 May 2024
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Kuglerová, L. & Muotka, T. & Chellaiah, D. & Jyväsjärvi, J. & Richardson, J. S.
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Publication language
British Columbia & Canada & Finland & Sweden & Nordic Countries


Generally, governments and industry have implemented some degree of protection to reduce the impacts of forestry on aquatic ecosystems. Here, we consider the widespread application of streamside management in terms of riparian buffer retention to protect freshwaters from forestry practices across three jurisdictions with large and intensive forestry sectors (British Columbia, Finland and Sweden). This perspective was developed by working with researchers, practitioners and policymakers on mitigation measures to decrease the impacts of forestry on streams. We demonstrate that it is exceedingly rare for policies and guidelines to specify concrete objectives and measurable targets that can be assessed against riparian buffer management outcomes. Most often, policy objectives for riparian management prescribe 'to prevent or mitigate impacts', and this vagueness is insufficient to protect our waters. We argue that we should be clearer about the targets (outcomes) for riparian management and go beyond the simple idea that buffer presence, without further specification of its conditions, is always a successful protection strategy. One cannot measure the effectiveness of rules and guidelines without quantitative targets. Policy implications: In this paper, we suggest that locally developed and adjusted targets for riparian buffers must include quantifiable, measurable goals that specify what is supposed to be achieved and protected with respect to ecological functions, biological communities or other values. It should be relatively simple to move from current vague objectives such as 'protect and prevent' to a defined range of values for ecological parameters that buffers are supposed to provide. For example, these can include region-specific shading levels and microclimate targets, large wood volumes, or riparian forest species composition. We stress that these targets must be developed through an open dialogue between agencies, practitioners, land owners and scientists. We acknowledge that there are trade-offs between being too prescriptive and too vague. However, when excessively broad goals are the norm, we lose the capacity to effectively implement, monitor or evaluate the outcomes of protection measures.

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