Riparian Channel Vegetation Survey

prepared by Grant Hamilton

Method Type



The riparian channel vegetation survey provides a general assessment of plant cover and composition along both sides of a stream channel. It is appropriate for systems and reaches with the potential to support a continuous band of riparian vegetation on the banks. Before conducting the riparian vegetation survey, a line-point intercept should be conducted to measure soil and vegetation cover.

Based on Winward’s (2000) “greenline” method which measures the composition of perennial vegetation “that forms a lineal grouping of community types on or near the water’s edge,” a survey of streambank vegetation calculates the preponderance of streambank stabilizing species and can be a useful indicator of a stream bank’s vulnerability to erosion. The presence of woody species along the bank is also measured.

Advantages and Limitations

This method does not require a high level of expertise in identification of riparian plant communities. If this expertise is available the Winward greenline method is recommended instead. Both methods were developed for use in the Inter Mountain western United States and may be less suitable for other regions.

Streambank alteration measures the impact of livestock trampling on a stream channel’s morphology and the bank’s stability. The impact of grazing on riparian vegetation can be measured with the stubble height method and/or the woody browse utilization method.


Burton, T.A., S.J. Smith, and E.R. Cowley. 2011. Riparian area management: Multiple indicator monitoring (MIM) of stream channels and streamside vegetation. Technical Reference 1737-23. BLM/OC/ST-10/003+1737+REV. U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, National Operations Center, Denver, CO. pp. 13-19, 39-47.

  • Provides a detailed description of the Winward greenline method.

USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range. (2014). Monitoring Manual for Grassland, Shrubland and Savanna Ecosystems, Volume II: Design, Supplementary Methods and Interpretation. 2nd Ed.

  • The Riparian Channel Vegetation Survey is a supplemental method for rangeland monitoring. Chapter 13 of the second volume of the Monitoring Manual contains a detailed description of the Riparian Channel Vegetation Survey method.

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