River Partners' mission is to create wildlife habitat for the benefit of people and the environment.

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Scientific Planning

Designs for Wildlife

The difference between River Partners and many other restoration organizations is our complex restoration designs. In our restoration designs, we group multiple combinations of plants species to meet the habitat needs of wildlife.

Planting at Drumheller Unit, SRNWR
Wild rose hips

Mugwort seedling

Least Bell's Vireo. Photo by S. Maslowski.

Riparian brush rabbit release.

For example, roses planted together with blackberries will grow into briar patches - excellent habitat for the endangered riparian brush rabbit. Another example is the combination of willow clusters with a mugwort understory. This has attracted the return of the least Bell's vireo to the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge, a songbird not sighted in this area for over 60 years.

As-built restoration plant design
As-built restoration plant design

Our restoration ecologists build the complex designs with the use of "tiles," which are five rows wide and ten plants long. Within each tile, different plant species are added and arranged, often in clusters. Each restoration plan is made up of hundreds of tiles. As shown the endresult resembles a paint-by-numbers set.

River Partners implements these designs in the field through a database. The database translates the restoration design into a labeling system. It assigns each plant a specific label. Then, our field crews follow the labels by rows, when they plant a site.

Other factors influence the development of River Partners restoration designs. For our plans to have long-term success, we must consider the site's conditions. We assess the soil, the vegetation, groundwater characteristics, and flooding history.

Flood-Neutral Designs

As-built restoration plant design
Aerial photograph of a floodplain

When River Partners plans a restoration project within a floodway, we consult with specialists in flood management engineering. Our goal is to ensure our plantings do not alter how flood waters are conveyed through the levee system. By working with other scientific professionals, we develop restoration plans that are flood-neutral and therefore do not add more pressure to the existing levee system.

Riparian restoration for wildlife takes place in locations that still experience the physical river processes of flooding, bank erosion, sedimentation, and channel movement. In California's Great Central Valley, with dams and levees on the major rivers, these river processes now occur only between levees or in the floodway.

To plan for these processes, we ask specialists in flood management engineering to evaluate the pattern of flood flows. The hydraulic models they produce test River Partners' restoration designs. With this input, River Partners arranges our clusters of trees, shrubs and grasses so that the maximum water flow (design flow) is not changed. In other words, the maximum water flow still will pass safely through a levee system after our restoration plantings.

These restored riparian areas serve as an anchor on river banks to prevent any further erosion. Restoration of riparian areas also provides a safe place for flood water to reside until returning back to the river. Our restoration projects are meant to handle flooding, erosion, sedimentation and channel movement.

As-built restoration plant design
Hydrologic analysis of the Riparian Sanctuary project