, Volume 54, Issue 3, pp 465-478
Date: 04 Jul 2014

Effects of Flooding and Tamarisk Removal on Habitat for Sensitive Fish Species in the San Rafael River, Utah: Implications for Fish Habitat Enhancement and Future Restoration Efforts

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Tamarisk removal is a widespread restoration practice on rivers in the southwestern USA, but impacts of removal on fish habitat have rarely been investigated. We examined whether tamarisk removal, in combination with a large spring flood, had the potential to improve fish habitat on the San Rafael River in southeastern Utah. We quantified habitat complexity and the distribution of wood accumulation in a tamarisk removal site (treated) and a non-removal site (untreated) in 2010, 1 year prior to a large magnitude and long-duration spring flood. We used aerial imagery to analyze river changes in the treated and untreated sites. Areas of channel movement were significantly larger in the treated site compared to the untreated site, primarily because of geomorphic characteristics of the channel, including higher sinuosity and the presence of an ephemeral tributary. However, results suggest that tamarisk removal on the outside of meander bends, where it grows directly on the channel margins, can promote increased channel movement. Prior to the flood, wood accumulations were concentrated in sections of channel where tamarisk had been removed. Pools, riffles, and backwaters occurred more frequently within 30 m upstream and downstream of wood accumulations compared to areas within 30 m of random points. Pools associated with wood accumulations were also significantly larger and deeper than those associated with random points. These results suggest that the combination of tamarisk removal and wood input can increase the potential for channel movement during spring floods thereby diversifying river habitat and improving conditions for native fish.