Can cows and fish co-exist?

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Our paper provides an ecological perspective on the interrelationship between livestock grazing and riparian areas through a review of topical literature. We also describe the Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Project (also known as "Cows and Fish"), and draw upon our experience to provide a perspective on future riparian management actions. Those actions should begin with an understanding that prairie landscapes evolved with herbivores, in a grazing regime timed and controlled by season and climatic fluctuations where grazing by native grazers was followed by variable rest periods. Prevailing range management principles represent an attempt to imitate the natural system and describe ecologically based grazing systems. Traditionally, range management guidelines have focused on grazing practices and impacts in upland, terrestrial rangelands, with a lack of attention devoted to riparian areas.Three decades of riparian investigation have quantified the effect unmanaged livestock grazing can have on range productivity and watershed function. We contend that suitable grazing strategies for riparian areas will be developed first by understanding the function of riparian systems and then by applying range management principles to develop riparian grazing strategies. A key step towards determining the fit of livestock grazing is an understanding of the formation of riparian systems and their ecological function. We describe riparian structure, function and process to provide linkages between livestock grazing, riparian vegetation health and stream channel dynamics. We summarize the effects of unmanaged livestock grazing on riparian habitats and fish and wildlife populations. The general conclusion is that unmanaged grazing results in overuse and degradation of riparian areas. The literature provides several options for the development of riparian grazing strategies. We provide an overview of strategies suitable for riparian areas in Southern Alberta which should maintain ecological function and sustained use.