Riparian Areas and Critical Habitat for Endangered Fish
Identification of critical habitat is a key step in conservation and recovery of endangered and threatened freshwater fish. Critical habitat under Canadian and US legislation may include habitat that is not directly used by listed fish, provided it is necessary for species conservation or recovery. Riparian habitat meets biological criteria for critical habitat because riparian zones are integral to aquatic ecosystem functions of importance to many fish species and other organisms. These functions include provision of shade for temperature-sensitive species, control of channel complexity and sediment inputs through bank stabilization, input of large wood and allochthonous energy sources, and filtering of nutrients and tox- ins from adjacent land. In response to decades of stream-riparian research, widespread implementation of regulations to protect riparian zones in most developed countries represent a de facto consensus that riparian buffers are essential for aquatic ecosystem health and the maintenance of populations of fish and other species. Consistent with widespread riparian regulations deemed necessary to protect not-at-risk species, riparian habitat adjacent to a body of water containing a listed freshwater species should be considered biologically critical unless the habitat requirements of individual taxa are demonstrated to be insensitive to the ecological functions associated with riparian habitat.