There are few places as majestic as a mountain meadow, and few landscapes that safeguard our rivers headwaters as well as a healthy meadow. Healthy meadows provide outstanding natural benefits: they store spring floodwaters and release cool flows in late summer; they filter out sediment and pollutant; and, they produce high-quality forage and provide habitat for rare and threatened species. Intact meadows provide important ecosystem functions for the immediate area and for their watershed including: storing spring floodwaters; increasing biodiversity; increasing late summer water storage; extending late summer baseflows; decreasing flooding; decreasing sediment load and delivery; improving water quality; providing high-quality forage and providing habitat for rare and threatened species; supporting aesthetic values; and protecting Native American cultural values.
However, a number of stressors including overgrazing, and altered fire regime, roads and trails, invasive species and climate change have profoundly affected how Sierra meadows work and the benefits they provide.
There are two primary threats to the meadows of the CABY region:
1) Invasion by conifers and invasive weeds which change the hydrology and plant communities of the meadows, and
2) Direct hydrologic changes, such as draining, ditching and roads.
These threats need to be addressed as they represent on-going and accelerating damage. Conifers and weeds are choking out meadows at an increased rate each year and drainage ditches deepen over time and dry up the meadows.
SYRCL staff and volunteers will work with a variety of partners including American River Conservancy, American Rivers (AR), United States Forest Service (USFS), the Sierra Native Alliance (SNA) to carry out the following projects throughout the CABY region.
- Rucker, Butcher, and Bear Meadows: SYRCL will work with trained volunteers and the Sierra Native Alliance to improve 12 acres of aspens groves and meadows in the Yuba River Watershed. SNA members will be trained to use handtools to remove encroaching conifers and weeds. This work will increase solar radiation to the aspen clone and increase biodiversity within the aspen stands. Soil moisture will increase and about two acres of yellow star thistle will be removed. Training of volunteers will be critical to the success of this project.
- Deer Meadow: The USFS will conduct a hydrologic assessment of the whole meadow with the result being a list of recommended design actions to enhance the meadow.
- Blackjack: Currently a road cuts through a part of Blackjack meadow. This road is draining the meadow and drying the soil. As part of this project the road will be removed and the drainage will be stopped.
- Elliot Meadow: The first step in implementing this project is development of a restoration design. Tasks will include filling a network of deeply incised channels and ditches that drain groundwater form the meadow. A ditch (up to six feet deep in places) and developing head cuts has lowered the water table in the meadow. Restoring Eliot meadow will ensure that the meadow will once again become part of the State’s natural water storage infrastructure.
- Gold Hill Ranch: Decades of ranching and erosion have created a highly degraded channel in Gold Hill Meadow. Project work by American River Conservancy will provide restored channel and protective fencing. An active head cut will be stabilized preventing further erosion, and a concrete apron will be removed. Part of the work will be done with SNA crews and volunteers. Training will be provided to both SNA and volunteers.
- American River Watershed Meadow Prioritization: America Rivers field crews will assess the quality and impact of 50 to 70 meadows within the American River Watershed. The data will be placed into at GIS database for analysis and ranking. The resulting report will provide a clear roadmap for the most critical actions to improve meadows.
Current Progress (December 2016):
- Rucker, Butcher, and Bear Meadows: At Rucker Lake, SYRCL volunteers and staff removed 4.46 acres of encroaching conifers (less than 10 inches in diameter at breast height (DBH)) from an aspen stand on the edge of the lake within the meadow. In addition, SYRCL conducted surveys that will determine if aspen are successfully recruiting within the stand now that conifers less than 10 in. in DBH have been removed. NEPA and CEQA are complete. At Bear Meadow, SYRCL volunteers, staff, and Sierra Nevada Alliance crews controlled yellow star-thistle over a 3.65 acre area within the meadow. Treatment occurred over two growing seasons. NEPA and CEQA are complete. At Butcher Ranch Meadow, SYRCL volunteers and staff removed 3 acres of encroaching conifers (less than 10 inches in diameter at breast height (DBH)) from aspen stands within the meadow. In addition, SYRCL conducted surveys that will determine if aspen are successfully recruiting within the stand now that conifers less than 10 in. in DBH have been removed. NEPA is complete and CEQA is in process.
- Deer Meadow: The Tahoe National Forest has surveyed Deer Meadow and has begun preliminary design work for a restoration plan for the meadow. In addition, SYRCL received matching funding from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to measure greenhouse gas emissions, hydrology, soil carbon, and vegetation within Deer Meadow and implement the restoration project. NEPA is in progress. The project is expected to be implemented in the Fall of 2018.
- Blackjack: The restoration design for Blackjack Meadow has changed to include stabilizing headcuts within the fen. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2017.
- Elliot Meadow: In the fall of 2015, The Tahoe National Forest, American Rivers, and the Sierra Native Alliance Youth Conservation Corps partnered to eliminate the ditch (800 tons of fill), remove encroaching trees, and decommission two unused spring diversions in the meadow. We also repaired an eroding headcut and removed old barbed wire fencing. This project is nearly complete.
- American River Watershed Meadow Prioritization: American Rivers’ field crews visited 63 meadows in the American River watershed and evaluated 40 meadows for restoration potential. The assessment covered every meadow in the watershed that was 1) larger than 15 acres and 2) either on public land or on land where the landowner allowed access. The data are available online: http://meadows.ucdavis.edu/assessments/. In January, 2017, a meeting is planned to prioritize meadows for restoration. For information on this and future meetings please contact Max Odland firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lead Agency: South Yuba River Citizens League
Contact: Rachel Hutchinson, 530-265-5961×205, email@example.com
Measurable Physical Benefits: Ecosystem Restoration
Watersheds: American, Yuba
Counties: Nevada, Sierra, Yuba, Placer