Does Riparian Fencing Protect Stream Water Quality in Cattle-Grazed Lands?

TitleDoes Riparian Fencing Protect Stream Water Quality in Cattle-Grazed Lands?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsGrudzinski, B, Fritz, K, Dodds, WK
JournalEnvironmental Management
Pagination121 - 135

Cattle degrade streams by increasing sediment, nutrient, and fecal bacteria levels. Riparian fencing is one best management practice that may protect water quality within many grazed lands. Here we surveyed the literature and summarized the responses of sediment, nutrient, and fecal indicator bacteria levels to riparian exclosure fencing in cattle-grazed lands. Overall, our review of relevant literature supports the role of riparian exclosure fencing in reducing the negative impact of cattle on water quality, particularly for sediment and fecal indicator bacteria in temperate forest and temperate grassland streams. Establishing buffer widths > 5–10 m appears to increase the likelihood of water quality improvements. Fencing may also be effective at reducing pollutant inputs during stormflows. Our survey also identified critical spatial and thematic gaps that future research programs should address. Despite cattle grazing being prevalent in 12 terrestrial biomes, our systematic search of the empirical literature identified 26 relevant studies across only three biomes. Regions with the greatest cattle populations remain largely unstudied. In addition, we identified inconsistencies in how studies reported information on regional factors, cattle management, and other metrics related to study results. We provide a list of standard parameters for future studies to consider reporting to improve cross-study comparisons of riparian fencing impacts. We also encourage future studies in semi-arid and tropical regions where cattle grazing is common.