Meadows are areas of high diversity and often provide habitat for sensitive or threatened species. Mountain meadows occur are areas of relatively flat ground where sediment and water accumulates. Most meadows of the Sierra Nevada have been greatly altered by cattle grazing activities and the resulting impacts include domination of by exotic vegetation and degradation of the stream channel. In some cases, the most severe impact to meadows involves the reduction in groundwater storage.
Meadows vary in their degree of wetness, but all are capable of functioning as natural water storage reservoirs. When streams degrade, they cut deeper through meadows and lower the water table. Degraded meadows provide less “hydric” soils for vegetation and store less water in subsurface soils. The loss of stored water potential in meadows represents a significant opportunity for restoring natural hydrologic function in our watersheds.
Scientists with Sacramento State University, Earthwatch, UC Merced, UC Davis and the Natural Heritage Institute, and American Rivers are working to estimate the degradation of mountain meadows and eventually the amount of increased water storage that may be available through the restoration of meadows. In the meantime, many scientists are already developing improved assessment and restoration techniques for meadows.
In 2007, The Natural Heritage Institute came to SYRCL for help develop a citizen-based protocol for assessing the condition of meadows. The goal of the SYRCL“NHI project is to provide watershed and citizen groups through the Sierra Region with a standard and consistent protocol to assess meadow health and support the prioritization of restoration actions.
Presently, SYRCL is working to assess meadows across the Yuba watershed and works directly with the Tahoe National Forest, Earthwatch, and UC Merced in this work. Meadows that were assessed back in 2007 are being prepared for restoration. Check out our meadow restoration page for more information.
For a more information on SYRCL’s Meadow Project, see the article by Wendy Thompson prepared for Tree Rings, a publication of the Yuba Watershed Institute:
Meadow Sampling in the Yuba Watershed — Volunteers Lead the Way
For more information, see the following documents:
- American Rivers/UC Davis Meadows Protocol
- Health and Status of Meadows in the Cosumnes, American, Bear and Yuba Watersheds (report by the Natural Heritage Institute)