What Is a Riparian Area
What Is a Riparian Area?
NRCS defines riparian areas as ecosystems that occur along watercourses or
water bodies. They are different from surrounding lands because of unique soil
and plant characteristics that are strongly influenced by free or unbound water
in the soil. Riparian ecosystems occupy the transitional area between the
terrestrial (dry) and aquatic (wet) ecosystems. Typical examples would include
floodplains, streambanks, lakeshores, and wetlands. Riparian areas may exist within any
land use area, such as cropland, hayland, pastureland, rangeland, and
Although riparian areas constitute only a fraction of the total land area of
Montana, they are generally more productive in terms of plant and animal
species, diversity and biomass than adjacent uplands. It is important to
recognize that not all riparian areas have the same potential or react to
management in the same way. Therefore, they should be managed according to their
The importance of riparian areas is mostly due to their spatial relationship
to the landscape. Most riparian features are relatively long and narrow
in relation to other landscape features. This spatial relationship provides a
great many transition zones. The transition zones are the points at which dry
and wet ecosystems interface and are the sites of important exchanges of
material and energy in the landscape.
Federal law does not specifically regulate riparian areas. However, portions
of riparian areas, such as wetlands and other waters of the U.S., may be subject
to federal regulation under provisions of The Food Security Act, The Clean Water
Act, The National Environmental Policy Act and state and local legislation.