Monitoring Stream and Watershed Restoration

Chapter 11: Monitoring of Acquisitions and Conservation Easements

Gino Lucchetti, Klaus O. Richter, and Ruth E. Schaefer


Effective restoration requires a holistic view of the watershed and, depending on the nature of impacts, a broad set of actions applied at multiple scales (May et al. 1997; Frissell and Ralph 1998). Structural solutions (e.g., riparian planting, adding wood to streams, fencing) and regulatory measures such as streamside buffers may not be sufficient or appropriate to protect sensitive habitats, key species, or more encompassing ecological processes (USCOTA 1989). Thus, acquisitions and conservation easements (ACE) that acquire critical habitat lands or that protect important ecological processes are valuable and, in some cases, essential tools in stream and watershed restoration. In spite of the potential importance of ACEs and the considerable past effort and ongoing interest throughout much of North America in acquiring them, little attention has been given to monitoring their effectiveness in meeting habitat- or species-based protection and restoration goals, or to methods of monitoring them. As with other management actions, without a solid monitoring program, the effectiveness of ACEs cannot be measured. Ultimately, if the habitat or species benefits of ACEs are not demonstrated, money is wasted and their value questioned, thereby risking loss of future funding and natural resource conservation. Monitoring also provides valuable information for future stream and watershed restoration actions.

There are two broad reasons for using ACEs to protect habitat. The first is to preserve a unique or valuable habitat or to acquire an area that has high natural potential for restoration. Within aquatic ecosystems, such areas often include high-quality stream reaches, springs, side channels, or confluence areas that provide critical spawning, nursery, or rearing functions. These areas also could be highly sensitive, irreplaceable wetlands, such as bogs and fens, or highly productive estuarine and marine habitats, including sloughs and eel grass or kelp beds. Such habitats tend to exhibit high biological productivity or species richness and often are critical for rare or endangered species. They also tend to be highly susceptible to development and other anthropogenic impacts.

The second reason for using ACEs is that they serve as buffers from human impacts or provide natural materials and processes necessary for adjacent targeted habitats to persist. Lands commonly protected for these purposes include upland forests, which can be important for their hydrological, geomorphological, chemical, and biological functions (e.g., protection of natural base and storm flows, slope stabilization, nutrient cycling, woody debris recruitment).