Meadow Restoration

Mountain meadows occur in relatively flat areas where sediment and water accumulates. Meadows habitats are highly diverse, sequester carbon, and often provide habitat for sensitive or threatened species. However, most meadows in the Sierra Nevada have been degraded by past human land use activities. Because meadows are of both hydrological and ecological importance, SYRCL has taken on the task of assessing and restoring meadows in the Yuba watershed.

SYRCL has provided leadership in the assessment of meadows by testing protocols developed by American Rivers, UC Davis, and the US Forest Service on seven meadows in the Yuba River watershed.  In addition, SYRCL authored Sharing Stewardship – A Guide to Involving Volunteers in the Assessment, Monitoring and Restoration of Meadows in the Sierra Nevada. Meadow assessments help SYRCL determine which meadows should be prioritized for potential future restoration actions across the Yuba watershed.

Earthwatch Institute Expedition: Restore Sierra Meadows

Sign up to join Earthwatch Institute and SYRCL scientists in the field and help conduct the research to restore Sierra Meadows. Citizen scientists will be trained onsite to conduct streamline assessments, groundwater measurements, tree measurements, vegetation transects, and greenhouse gas monitoring. Become a part of the expedition and explore the Sierra meadows as a scientist for this week-long research event.

Meadows Store and Filter Water

Meadows store and filter water, releasing it slowly into the summer months when California needs it the most. Meadows that have degraded due to issues like grazing, climate change, lack of fire, timber harvesting, road and trail building are more susceptible to channel erosion and a lowered groundwater table. SYRCL now works to restore many meadows in the Yuba watershed including: Loney Meadow, Deer Meadow, Bear Trap Meadow and Van Norden Meadow.

Loney Meadow with aspen trees on the fringe
Loney Meadow with aspen trees on the edge

Meadows and Greenhouse Gas Sequestration

Mountain meadows in the Sierra Nevada provide multiple ecosystem services including a natural storage for atmospheric carbon. Research has shown that meadows contain at least two times more carbon, nitrogen, dissolved organic carbon, and dissolved organic nitrogen than degraded meadows. Restoring mountain meadows has the potential to increase soil organic carbon sequestration, creating a region-wide carbon sink that will help offset CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use.

The Importance of Aspen

Sierra aspen are hot spots for biodiversity, provide critical habitat for native birds and are known for their beautiful fall color and the fluttering of their leaves on warm summer days. As SYRCL continues to work with the Tahoe National Forest on developing comprehensive meadow restoration plans, we focus on hands-on restoration activities directed at the enhancement of Sierra aspen stands by removing encroaching conifers. With altered fire regimes and hydrology, and a changing climate, conifers have begun to intrude on aspen stands and are outcompeting aspen for sunlight and water. Unfortunately, more than 96% of historic aspen stands have been lost due to fire suppression, conifer encroachment and other factors. SYRCL has completed several aspen regeneration projects and continues this work in the meadows of the Yuba watershed.

Aspen facts

  • Aspen typically live about 150 years.
  • Aspen reproduce primarily from asexual root sprouting.
  • Each colony is its own clone, and all trees in the clone have identical genetics, characteristics and share a single root structure.
  • Aspen stands support more species than surrounding conifer vegetation types.
  • It may take 3-4 years before aspen will sprout in a stand where conifers have been removed.

Volunteers and Aspen

Since 2011, SYRCL has partnered with the Tahoe National Forest to work with volunteers and remove encroaching conifers from aspen tree patches that were struggling for light. These efforts are ongoing and projects to monitor success and continue to remove conifers are active at Rucker Lake, Pierce Wetlands, Loney Meadows, and Butcher Ranch.

Volunteer opportunities to help remove encroaching conifers are available in the summer months. Please visit our volunteer page to get involved.

SYRCL is hosting a volunteer event on Saturday, July 16th to take soil samples and install piezometers, which help monitor groundwater, at our mountain meadows! Click here to sign up and find out more information. This is a great opportunity to to enjoy the beauty of the mountains and help collect data that will help us better understand meadow ecosystems!

Resources for SYRCL’s Meadow Restoration Program

SYRCL receives support for our Yuba Headwaters Meadow Restoration Program from:

  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Earthwatch
  • Sierra Nevada Conservancy
  • Tahoe National Forest
  • The National Forest Foundation
  • The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • The Cosumnes, American, Bear, Yuba Integrated Regional Water Management Project (CABY)

Thank you to all of our partners, funders, and the volunteers who help make this program a success!