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Deschutes Basin Wetlands and Riparian Areas

A riparian zone or corridor is the name given to the land adjacent to a stream, river or lake. A transition zone between terrestrial and aquatic systems, riparian zones can be highly diverse and productive. These areas often support specialized plant species and provide important habitat for wildlife. Riparian zones also act as a filter because they exist in an area through which groundwater and surface flows must pass before reaching a stream. In this way, riparian areas can improve an areas water quality.

Many riparian areas include wetlands, or areas where the soil is saturated for part or all of the year. The presence of water creates characteristic soils that are favored by water-tolerant plants, or hydrophytes. Wetlands provide food and cover for wildlife species, water filtration, and act as a buffer against flooding. Some types plants found in Deschutes wetlands and riparian areas include sedges, rushes, aquatic plants, birch, hackberry, willow, bunchgrass, wild rye grass, cottonwood, and alder.

Human Effects on Riparian Areas

In the dry landscape of Central Oregon, people and animals have always been drawn to riparian zones. In the book Biography of a Place: Passages through a Central Oregon Meadow, Martin Winch tells the settlement history of the Deschutes Basin by from the perspectives of the occupants of a riparian meadow near Sisters, Oregon. Native Americans, trappers and settlers are each drawn to Camp Polk Meadows, a place where the stream and riparian zone provide the resources they need to survive.

Our reliance on riparian zones means that these ecosystems are some of the most highly impacted areas of the Deschutes Basin. These areas have been altered by agriculture, development, water diversions, impoundments, and water withdrawals, and many areas have lost their native plant and animal communities.

For example, beaver have historically played an important role in creating and maintaining wetland habitat. Beaver dams create wet meadows with high water tables and multiple channel threads. Groundwater recharge in wet meadows help moderate water temperatures and maintain steady base flows. With extensive beaver trapping in the early 1800s, however, these benefits were lost along with the beavers themselves. Today, riparian zones are now one of the areas most often targeted for restoration. Efforts focus on re-establishing native hydrophytes and the ecosystem services needed by so many species, including humans.


Winch, Martin. 2006. Biography of a Place: Passages through a Central Oregon Meadow. Deschutes County Historical Society, Bend, Oregon. Photographs, maps, notes, bibliography, index. 294 pages.

Northwest Power and Conservation Council Deschutes Subbasin Plan Appendix II: Environmental Conditions - Overview of the Deschutes basin including wetlands and riparian areas.

Authored by Maria Wright, Faculty Research Assistant, Institute for Natural Resources and Caitlin Bell, Staff, Oregon Explorer