Riparian Buffers PSA

Riparian buffers are important for good water quality in Montana!

We worked with Sunrise Flyshop, a leading guide and outfitter shop located in Melrose, Montana, to put together this Riparian Buffers video showing incredible flyover footage of the Big Hole and other tributatries in Southwest Montana. Watch it below!

Riparian zones help to prevent sediment, nitrogen, phosphorus, pesticides and other pollutants from reaching a stream. Riparian buffers are most effective at improving water quality when they include a native grass or herbaceous filter strip along with deep rooted trees and shrubs along the stream.

Riparian vegetation is a major source of energy and nutrients for stream communities. They are especially important in small, headwater streams where up to 90% of the energy input may be from woody debris and leaf litter. Overhanging riparian vegetation also keeps streams cool, this is especially important for Montana’s trout populations who are extremely sensitive to temperature!

Riparian buffers likewise provide valuable habitat for terrestrial wildlife. In addition to providing food and cover they are an important corridor or travel way for a variety of wildlife. Forested streamsides benefit game species such as deer, rabbit, quail and nongame species like migratory birds.

Riparian vegetation is also a benefit for private landowners! They slow floodwaters, thereby helping to maintain stable streambanks and protect downstream property. By slowing down floodwaters and rainwater runoff, the riparian vegetation allows water to soak into the ground and recharge groundwater – upstream water storage via natural sinks like wetlands and riparian zones may be a key solution to combating Montana’s changing climate and water demands!

Likewise, slowing floodwaters allows the riparian zone to function as a site of sediment deposition, trapping sediments that build stream banks and would otherwise degrade our streams and rivers. Trapping sediment and nutrients is key to decreasing those pollutant in SW Montana’s waterways, the vast majority of which already suffer from too much nutrient and sediment pollution!