Adapting existing models to examine effects of agricultural conservation programs on stream habitat quality
Annual expenditures by the federal government in the United States for agricultural conservation programs increased about 80 percent with passage of the 2002 Farm Bill. However, environmental benefits of these programs have not been quantified. A national project is under way to estimate the effect of conservation practices on environmental resources. The watershed models intended for use in that project are focused on water quantity and quality and have minimal habitat assessment capability. Major impairments to aquatic ecosystems in many watersheds consist of physical habitat degradation, not water quality, suggesting that current models for this national initiative do not address one of the most significant aspects of aquatic ecosystem degradation. Currently used models contain some components relevant to aquatic habitat, and this paper describes specific components that should be added to allow rudimentary stream habitat quality assessments. At least six types of variables could be examined for ecological impact: land use, streamflow, water temperature, streambed material type, large woody debris, and hydraulic conditions at base flow. All of these variables are influenced by the presence, location, and quality of buffers. Generation of stream corridor ecological or habitat quality indices might contribute to assessments of the success or failure of conservation programs. Additional research is needed to refine procedures for combining specific measures of stream habitat into ecologically meaningful indices. JAWRA Copyright © 2006.
Shields, FD; Langendoen, EJ; Doyle, MW
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