Friday, March 30, 2012

Riparian workshop

Ricky Linex (center in blue shirt) and Kenneth Mayben, both with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, led a Riparian Workshop this week.

Tubing on the Guadalupe River. Splashing in the Blanco River. Stepping along a gurgling creek that runs through your property. We relish time spent at our special places in and near water. But riparian habitats–those transition zones that link wetlands to uplands–are one of our most endangered ecosystems.

“They are loved to death,” Sammye Childers told us this week in a Riparian Workshop held at The Trails of Horseshoe Bay.

As part of our Texas Master Naturalist training with the Highland Lakes chapter, Childers, our training program coordinator, scheduled the extra day-long class, which was also open to certified Master Naturalists and Texas Master Gardeners.

Ricky Linex, a wildlife biologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Weatherford, gave an overview of riparian function. “Every creek is different, but they have similarities,” he said.

A number of myths muddy people’s basic understanding about creeks. “They think floods and droughts are bad,” Linex said. “They also think streams should be wide and straight.”

Other myths that we’d learn are wrong: dead timber clog up streams and should be removed; removing vegetation will improve stream flow; steep cut-banks are bad; if a watershed’s in good condition, so is a stream; and riparian areas should be burned and grazed, and brushed controlled in order to maintain or restore desirable vegetation.

“Soil–water–vegetation are like gears meshing. The ideal is for all those to connect and mesh finely together,” Linex said. “A properly functioning riparian area has adequate vegetation, land form and large woods.” Vegetation and woods slow down a stream energy (force of a water flow) while stabilizing banks, reducing erosion, trapping sediments (which builds a floodplain) and store water.

Next, Linex gave a quick lesson in hydrology. “How we manage rain is one answer (to our water problems),” he said. A grass blade dissipates the energy of one raindrop falling. So established grasses help the land to slow down runoff in a watershed and store it, which benefits creeks and riparian areas.

Ranchers and private landowners can better protect their creeks by managing the time that livestock spend near them. He recommended alternate water sources be installed away from creeks in fenced pastures; rotational grazing and also fencing off creeks. “Livestock can graze a riparian area, but it must be managed,” he added.

Next, Kenneth Mayben–an engineer with the NRCS–discussed fluvial geomorphology, potential versus capability of a stream, bank full discharge and bank full flow, channel geometry, width/depth ratio, sinuosity, headcuts, active and abandoned floodplains…the three-hour class felt like a semester’s worth of information. Our heads were swimming!

Good read: Mayben recommended A View of the River by Luna B. Leopold. “It changed my thinking about rivers,” he said.

After Mayben’s presentation, Linex discussed the role of grasses, sedges, forbs, shrubs and trees in a riparian area. Some colonize (like spikerush and watercress), others stabilize the soil (like switchgrass and emory sedge).

Some recreational use of creek banks is fine, provided at least 70 percent remains natural (with plant coverage), Linex said.   

After lunch, we ventured out beneath gray, drizzly skies to explore and learn more about streams and creeks....

Lindheimer muhly

Kenneth Mayben shows us the differences in soil found in riparian and upland areas.

Linex points out more native grasses.

An elbow bush (we have one in our Wildscape).

As we walked along the creek, M.J., my classmate, told me to look up and "take a picture of that!" If you look closely at the oak limb above the lady's heads, you'll see.....

...a prickly pear cactus growing!!

Ed stands next to a bunch of little bluestem (it's a little hard to see in the photo).

Linex shows us a Malta star-thistle (Centaurea melitensis), an invasive that's as bad as the bastard cabbage cropping up everywhere.

Here's how to tell the difference between native and nonnative thistles.

Spike rush


A friendly and HIGHLY energetic teen pup accompanied our group. (Hope she found her way back home!)

I love sedums.

Last leg of our Riparian Workshop with Ricky Linex and Kenneth Mayben.

Read more: 

   * National riparian specialist Wayne Elmore's restoration work in Orgeon (article published in 1998).


sandy lawrence said...

Fascinating. There is a creek running through my property, and I am forever picking up other people's trash. Sad. I wish people would be good stewards of our waterways, if no other way but just don't throw trash out of cars!

Sheryl Smith-Rodgers said...

Oh my, wish I could have gone into more detail about what we heard/learned! There was SO MUCH information that we covered. I just hit the HIGH high points in my post.

Sheryl Smith-Rodgers said...

And YES, I wish EVERYONE respected, revered and loved the land as our once Native Americans did. Seems like few people care any more about our natural world.

Sharrieboberry said...

I would like to have permission to use one of your photos of Ricky Linux for a talk he is giving in Denton County. If possible, I could post a link back to this page, for credit, for use of your photo. Thankyouverymuch.

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