The purpose of this study was to examine the characteristics of riparian plant communities along a gradient of livestock exclusion in the Lower Columbia River Basin (LCRB) located in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Livestock exclusion from riparian wetlands is a common passive restoration technique. Few studies, however, have focused on the effects of livestock grazing or the exclusion of livestock grazing on these ecosystems. Vegetation community composition was examined in two passive restoration sites, three and 13 years since livestock exclusion, and in a reference site with continued livestock grazing. We hypothesized native plant species richness would be lower in the excluded wetlands than in the grazed wetland due to the competitive exclusion from an increase in non-native plant dominance in the absence of grazing. The grazed wetland had significantly (P < 0.02) greater mean total species richness (23.3 ± 1.6; mean ± 1 standard error), native (10.2 ± 0.5), and non-native (12 ± 1.5) species richness than both the excluded wetlands. Mean total species richness did not differ significantly (P = 0.088) between the three-year (12 ± 1.4) and 13-year (5.5 ± 2.3) excluded wetlands. Mean native and non-native species richness also did not differ significantly (native P = 0.088. non-native P = 0.064) between the three-year (native 6.3 ± 0.6, non-native 5 ± 2.3) and 13-year (native 2.8 ± 1.3, non-native 2.7 ± 1.1) excluded wetlands. However, native species abundance as indicated by percent cover was significantly (P < 0.02) lower in the 13-year excluded wetland (4.2 ± 2.0%) than both the three-year excluded (51.5 ± 3.9%) and grazed (23.2 ± 3.3%) wetlands. The invasive grass, Phalaris arundinacea (reed canarygrass), was found to be the dominant vegetation cover in all three wetlands, with average relative cover ranging from 95.2 ± 2.0% at the 13-year exclusion site to 52.8 ± 4.1% at the grazing site, and 43.0 ± 4.0% cover at the three-year exclusion site. These observations suggest that livestock exclusion alone may be an ineffective strategy for restoring riparian plant communities in regions such as LCRB where invasive species like reed canarygrass are abundant. More effective management alternatives might include short-term livestock exclusion and reintroduced targeted grazing to both reduce livestock impacts and control reed canarygrass dominance.
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Vol. 35 • No. 4