, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 412-425

Reconstructing Historical Riparian Conditions of Two River Basins in Eastern Oregon, USA

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As land use continues to alter riparian areas, historical information is increasingly needed to help establish reference conditions for monitoring and assessment. I developed and applied a procedure in the John Day and Deschutes river basins of eastern Oregon for synthesizing historical documentary records available across broad spatial areas to reconstruct 19th-century riparian conditions. The study area was stratified by ecoregion and stream physical characteristics to partition regional variability. Three primary data sources—General Land Office survey notes, historical photographs, and written accounts—provided descriptive records, which were grouped by topic to develop common riparian attributes. The number of records for each attribute was tallied by stratum to compare and contrast riparian structure and composition across strata and ecoregions. Detailed descriptions of historical riparian conditions using the original documentary records further illustrated the unique riparian conditions in each stratum. Similarities and differences in historical riparian structure and composition at the stratum and ecoregion levels were evident based on the distributional pattern and numbers of records of attributes across strata. A high number of repeated observations within and among primary data sources helped to corroborate descriptive data. Although these reference data cannot provide the detail needed for rigorous quantitative assessments, they do describe a range of conditions approaching a minimally disturbed condition and provide an important perspective for conducting riparian assessments in highly disturbed regions where least-disturbed reference sites are often poor examples of a desired condition.