Riparian ecosystems, especially in arid and semiarid regions, are areas of high natural resource value. In addition to water, riparian corridors include a diversity of landforms, plant and animal communities, physical processes, and microclimates. Because of this diversity of resources, riparian areas harbor a level of biodiversity disproportionate to their size within the larger landscape. But these areas face many threats. Drought and rising temperatures brought on by climate change, exotic species invasions, and human activities, such as grazing and recreation all take a toll on riparian ecosystems. The Southern Colorado Plateau Network (SCPN) selected riparian areas for monitoring, both for their value to the natural resources of network parks, and because of the threats they face.
The goal of monitoring riparian systems in network parks is to understand how riparian vegetation, hydrology, and geomorphology change, both in their composition and in extent, in response to disturbance events, such as large floods. To do this, SCPN will focus on a broad range of riparian habitats for monitoring. These habitats will fall into two categories: 1) Wadeable Streams and 2) Intermittent/ephemeral Streams. SCPN will use different customized approaches for monitoring these different classes of systems (see the Riparian Monitoring Protocol Implementation Plan for Park Units in the Southern Colorado Plateau Network for more information).
Specific objectives of SCPN’s riparian monitoring program include
Determine the status and trends in groundwater dynamics.
Determine the status and trends in geomorphic processes as reflected in channel and floodplain form.
Determine the status and trends in vegetation dynamics.
Vital Signs and Metrics
SCPN parks have identified three vital signs and associated metrics for this project. Not all metrics are measured for each class of stream. WS beside a metric indicates Wadeable Streams and IW indicates Intermittent/Ephemeral Streams.
Stream flow (WS)
Depth to groundwater (WS, IW)
2. Geomorphic processes
Floodplain width, elevation (WS, IW)
Channel width, depth (WS, IW)
Channel plan form (WS, IW)
Channel slope (WS)
Composition of bed material (WS)
3. Vegetation Dynamics
Species richness (WS, IW)
Plant cover by species (WS, IW)
Basal area and density of woody species (WS, IW)
Canopy closure (WS)
Frequency of occurrence of invasive species (WS, IW)
Inventory of rare species (WS, IW)
Monitored in These Parks
The Southern Colorado Plateau Network will monitor riparian ecosystems in the following parks and streams. This is not a complete list. Additional parks and streams will be added by early 2019.
- Aztec Ruins National Monument – Animas River
- Chaco Culture National Historical Park – Chaco Wash
- Canyon de Chelly National Monument - Tsaile Creek, Chinle Wash
- El Morro National Monument – Historic Pool
- Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site – Pueblo Colorado Wash
- Mesa Verde National Park – Mancos River
- Navajo National Monument - Keet Seel Canyon
- Petroglyph National Monument - North Boca Negra, Mairehaven, Ladeara and Rinconanda Arroyo Washes
- Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument – Cañon Sapato
- Walnut Canyon National Monument - Cherry Creek Pools
Monitoring Project Status
Hydrologic monitoring is in place at Aztec Ruins NM, Canyon De Chelly NM, Chaco Culture NHP, El Morrow NM, Hubbell Trading Post NHS, Mesa Verde National Park, Salinas Pueblo Missions NM, Walnut Canyon National Monument, and Wupatki National Monument. Vegetation and geomorphic components will begin to be added in 2019.The Riparian Monitoring Protocol Implementation Plan for Park Units in the Southern Colorado Plateau Network was published in 2018. Network parks will finalize the list of riparian sites to be monitored in December 2018.
Dusty Perkins, Acting Program Manager
Reports and Publications
Perkins, D. W., R. Weissinger, D. Witwicki, H. Thomas, A. Wight, K. Lund, M. Van Grinsven, L. McCoy, and E. Soles. 2018. Riparian Monitoring Protocol Implementation Plan for park units in the Southern Colorado Plateau Network. Natural Resource Report NPS/SCPN/NRR—2018/1766. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.
Last updated: November 16, 2018