Managing nonperennial headwater streams in temperate forests of the United States

Forest Ecology and Management
By: , and 



Forest management guidelines are designed to protect water quality from unintended effects of land use changes such as timber harvest, mining, or forest road construction. Although streams that periodically cease to flow (nonperennial) drain the majority of forested areas, these streams are not consistently included in forest management guidelines. This paper reviews management guidelines for nonperennial (intermittent and ephemeral) streams draining temperate forests in the continental U.S., evaluates potential impacts of land use activities on ecosystem services provided by these streams, and identifies information needed to incorporate nonperennial streams into water quality protection practices. For federally administered lands, national management guidance is deliberately nonprescriptive, deferring to regional and forest-level recommendations for both perennial and nonperennial streams. Most state guidelines recommend riparian management zone (RMZ) protection for perennial streams (48/50 states) and intermittent streams (45/50 states), but only Alaska and West Virginia require RMZs around ephemeral streams. Based on the National Hydrography Dataset, an average of 58% of forested land area in the U.S. drains to nonperennial headwater streams, making these stream types the most common connectors between forested lands and the aquatic system. Land uses that modify flow regimes in these streams can affect sediment and organic matter transport and distribution, stream temperature dynamics, and biogeochemical processing. Nonperennial streams also provide material subsidies to downstream waters and serve as temporary habitats for some aquatic species. However, limited research has examined how forest land uses affect ecosystem services and biota in these streams. Therefore we highlight a set of key questions about nonperennial streams in forests, not the least of which is simply understanding where headwater stream channels are located and associated patterns of flow duration. Although many questions remain, we also note where recent advances in data collection, modeling and process-level research provide opportunities to resolve uncertainties around nonperennial streams in forested landscapes of the continental U.S.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Managing nonperennial headwater streams in temperate forests of the United States
Series title Forest Ecology and Management
DOI 10.1016/j.foreco.2021.119523
Volume 497
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Water Science Center
Description 119523, 16 p.
Country United States
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