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Establishment of Woody Riparian Species from Natural Seedfall at a Former Gravel Pit

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Abstract

Establishment of native riparian communities through natural seedfall may be a viable reclamation alternative at some alluvial sand and gravel mines where water level can be controlled in the abandoned pit. We experimented with this approach at a pit in Fort Collins, Colorado, where a drain culvert equipped with a screw gate allows water levels to be manipulated. From 1994 to 1996 we conducted a series of annual drawdowns during the period of natural seedfall of Populus deltoides subsp. monilifera (plains cottonwood), Salix amygdaloides (peachleaf willow), and S. exigua (sandbar willow), thus providing the bare, moist substrate conducive to establishment of these species. Establishment was highly variable from year to year; in the fall following establishment, frequency of occurrence on 0.5-m2 sample plots ranged from 8.6% to 50.6% for cottonwood, 15.9% to 22.0% for peachleaf willow, and 21.7% to 50.0% for sandbar willow. Mean densities, however, were comparable to those reported for other locations. Concurrent establishment of the undesirable exotic Tamarix ramosissima (saltcedar) was a problem, but we were able to eradicate most saltcedar seedlings by reflooding the lower elevations of the annual drawdown zones each fall. At the end of the 3-year period, at least one of the three native woody species survived on 41.1% of the plots, while saltcedar was present on only 6.1%. In addition to the potential for establishing valuable native habitats, adaptations of the techniques described may require less earth moving than other reclamation approaches.

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