California Riparian Habitat Restoration Handbook

Second Edition
July 2009

F. Thomas Griggs, Ph.D., Former Senior Restoration Ecologist, River Partners

About the Handbook

The intended audience for this California Riparian Restoration Handbook is anyone responsible for writing a proposal for a riparian restoration project, anyone beginning to plan and implement the project, or those responsible for compliance and mitigation monitoring of such a project. This handbook explains the elements of a site-specific riparian restoration project that must be addressed in order for a project to be successful.

This handbook demonstrates how to approach riparian restoration design from an ecological perspective specific to the project location. This handbook describes the existing ecological conditions and physical processes at the watershed level that must be considered when developing an accurate, site-specific restoration plan that will successfully meet targeted objectives, with priority given to wildlife habitat.


California Partners in Flight (CalPIF) initiated the Riparian Habitat Joint Venture (RHJV) project in 1994. To date, eighteen federal, state and private organizations have signed the landmark Cooperative Agreement to protect and enhance habitats for native landbirds throughout California. The RHJV, modeled after the successful Joint Venture projects of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, reinforces other collaborative efforts currently underway which protect biodiversity and enhance natural resources as well as the human element they support. River Partners is a RHJV partner.

The RHJV partners identified a need for guidelines for planning and implementing riparian restoration projects on the ground. In 2007 the RHJV convened a group of restoration experts for a workshop to produce a handbook of restoration strategies, standards and guidelines – the birth of this handbook. The goal is to provide practitioners, regulators, land managers, planners, and funders with basic strategies and criteria to consider when planning and implementing riparian conservation projects. The Handbook covers issues such as:

  • What are the fundamental ecological criteria to consider for producing quality restoration on the ground?
  • How can a restoration project be designed to meet key goals AND provide wildlife habitat?What partnerships, permits, tools and resources are required to implement a restoration project?
  • Which field methods should be used to ensure the greatest success given a site’s soils and hydrologic setting?
  • What works and doesn’t work in restoration?
  • When and how should the restoration project be monitored to continue refining restoration techniques?

The handbook should be used for planning projects, creating budgets, and assessing restoration success. One aim is to provide a common language for riparian restoration, appropriate planning of projects and effective restoration on the ground. Ecological, biological, and regulatory components of a riparian restoration project are described. Additional resources of riparian restoration project support are provided including web-links and reference articles. Case studies of statewide riparian restoration projects that faced site specific conditions illustrate implementation of the principles presented in this handbook. This will be a living document that will be revised to include new information as it becomes available. This second version was revised in June 2009 (the first edition was completed in September 2008).

This handbook emphasizes the ecological river processes operating on floodplains and in river channels that create characteristic vegetation structure that forms wildlife habitat – as the foundation for planning a riparian restoration project. The goal of these guidelines is to explain the proposal/planning process for a site-specific riparian restoration project for wildlife habitat to the first-time as well as the experienced restoration project manager.

Read the handbook