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Southern Rockies Landscape Conservation Cooperative unit watershed erosion potential prioritization for check-dam installation

August 31, 2018

Changes in land-use practices and the extirpation (local extinction) of beaver populations in the early 20th century during European settlement are believed to have resulted in many changes in how streams in the Western United States function. Some of the negative changes that have resulted include stream channelization, soil erosion, changing vegetation, water turbidity, and a loss of overland flow. Efforts to restore streams and reduce soil erosion by water have included reintroductions of beaver, incorporating Native American traditional knowledge of dry-land farming techniques, and the installation of rigid check-dams. Many of these efforts have been successful in improving both intermittent and perennial stream function. Therefore, stakeholders in the Southern Rockies Landscape Conservation Cooperative (SRLCC) have identified a need to prioritize streams within their region of interest for the installation of check-dams to continue restoration and conservation efforts and to improve sediment catchment.

Using Natural Resource Conservation Service soil databases, topographic features derived from digital elevation models, stream networks, and regional climatic patterns, I developed a ranking system for watershed potential erosion rates and suitability for check-dam placement across the SRLCC. This ranking system serves as a first step for land managers to prioritize areas for check-dam installation based on relatively static factors (soil properties, topography, and hydrology) that can contribute to rates of soil erosion by water and the stability of check-dams. Many other relatively dynamic factors over time can contribute to rates of soil erosion by water, such as recent wildfire events, changes in weather patterns and extreme climate events, and changing land-use such as grazing, logging, mining, development, and cultivation. These factors that influence vegetative and biological soil crusts cover are also important elements to the potential erosion of soil by water. Because of this, SRLCC stakeholders might consider further evaluation of the watersheds identified here as high ranking. Final watershed prioritization among the high-ranking watersheds identified here should include current knowledge of land-use and land-cover estimates to identify areas at risk for soil erosion or degree of existing erosion problems.

Publication Year 2018
Title Southern Rockies Landscape Conservation Cooperative unit watershed erosion potential prioritization for check-dam installation
DOI 10.3133/ofr20181127
Authors Kirsten E. Ironside
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2018-1127
Index ID ofr20181127
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center