Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Massachusetts
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Roy, A.H., M.C. Freeman, J.L. Meyer, and D.S. Leigh. 2003. Development patterns in upland and riparian areas in the Etowah River basin. Proceedings of the 2003 Georgia Water Resources Conference, April 23-24, 2003, at the University of Georgia, Kathryn J. Hatcher, Editor, Institute of Ecology, The University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia


Streams are influenced by the upstream landscape, but may be differentially affected by conversion of forests in the entire catchment vs riparian areas adjacent to streams. We used geographic information system (GIS) analyses of the stream network and land cover in the Piedmont of the Etowah River basin to assess development patterns in upland catchment and riparian areas of streams. Landsat images (1973, 1987, 1997) were used to determine land cover and land cover change in a 100 m buffer on each side of the stream and the catchment as a whole. Agricultural and urban uses covered a larger percentage of the catchment area compared to the riparian area. Streams exhibited an average 13% decrease in forest cover and 11% increase in urban land cover in the catchments over the 24 year period, with riparian areas changing at a slower rate. Small (~15 km2) and large (~100 km2) catchments had similar proportions of buffer vs catchment forest land cover. Although rates of development were less in riparian areas, the continued trends of increased urban and decreased forest cover suggest that current policies may not be adequate at protecting stream ecosystems.