Restoration Update – Van Norden Meadow

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Ten years after the Truckee Donner Land Trust and partners purchased Van Norden Meadow (Yayalu Itdeh in Washoe) to save it from development, the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) and the Tahoe National Forest (TNF) have completed major construction on the project to restore the meadow.   

The 485-acre meadow, which was transferred into Tahoe National Forest ownership in 2017, is located at the headwaters of the South Yuba River. It is one of the largest meadows on the west side of the Northern Sierra and is critical for water storage, water quality, wildlife habitat, and forest resiliency. Healthy functioning meadows can also store as much carbon acre-for-acre as a rainforest.  

Due to years of intensive utilization, fire suppression, and hydrologic modifications such as dams and roads, Van Norden Meadow was in a degraded state, marked by deeply incised stream channels, a disconnected floodplain, low groundwater levels, soil compaction, invasive species colonization, and conifer encroachment. In this state of degradation, Van Norden Meadow was especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change predicted at high elevations, such as a higher proportion of precipitation falling as rain and not snow. Restored meadows are more resilient to the impacts of climate change and offer a host of benefits as the effects of climate change become more pronounced. 

Van Norden Meadow

This important work has not been done in isolation. Rachel Hutchinson, Sierraville District Ranger at Tahoe National Forest points to the fact that “Stakeholder insight has been key in the planning and progression of the Van Norden Meadow Restoration Project. We have been working with SYRCL and a large group of diverse partners to develop plans to restore the meadow and provide recreation opportunities since 2013. Our project plans have been informed by the latest scientific information as well as public input. We are especially thankful for the support and involvement of the Washoe Tribe who worked with our team through the design process.” 

Phase 1 of the Van Norden Meadow Restoration Project included filling sections of the South Yuba River and Lytton Creek and building Beaver Dam Analogs — man-made structures designed to mimic the form and function of a natural beaver dam — in Castle Creek to reconnect disconnected stream channels with the meadow floodplain.  Additional restoration actions include road improvements, completed to optimize hydrologic connectivity within the meadow, and mechanical removal of an invasive species and encroaching conifers. Willow and sedge planting occurred in areas where native plant restoration was needed. 

This restoration will result in improved meadow habitat, enhanced ecological and hydrologic function, increased groundwater levels, increased summer base flows, improved water quality, and increased carbon storage. It will also result in managed recreation opportunities and the improvement of the overall resiliency of the headwaters of the South Yuba River to changing climatic conditions.  Additionally, the project will lead to a greater scientific understanding of meadow processes which can then be applied to meadows and headwater streams across the Sierra region.   

Phase 1 of the Van Norden Meadow Restoration and Recreation Project has been completed for the season. The meadow will be open for winter recreation soon. 

Here’s a little summary of what was accomplished: 

  • Relocated 13,000 fish (12,000 of which were a native minnow species) out of harm’s way prior to beginning the project with partners from the TNF, CDFW, and TU 
  • Graded approximately 58,000 cubic yards off the dam berm and old spillway area to generate channel fill material 
  • Filled approximately 2.75 miles of channel in the South Yuba and Lytton Creeks 
  • Installed over 25 Beaver Dam Analog and Post assisted Log Structures 
  • Removed approximately 2 acres of Reed Canary Grass (outside of the stream channel) 
  • Removed approximately 14 acres of conifers from the meadow edge 
  • Completed road improvements along the Meadow Bisect Road 
  • Installed a 120’ new bridge! 
  • Realigned the road to keep the new bridge & road out of most active floodplain area, and decommissioned the old road section that was in a very active floodplain area 
  • Revegetated approximately 30 acres with the following tools: native seed mix dispersal, sod/sedge plugs, willow stakes, and willow fascines 
  • Installed embedded wood structures and brush for roughness 

Additional restoration work, specifically focused on stream restoration of the Lytton Creek fan and more conifer removal around the meadow edges, will be completed in the summers of 2023 and 2024 between July 15th and October 15th. Recreation focused work is expected in 2024. Led by the Tahoe National Forest, a new trail alignment, complete with viewing platforms, will be constructed.  Through 2026, scientists will monitor the project’s outcomes and anticipated benefits to hydrology, ecology, and carbon storage.  

“Restoring a meadow as large as Van Norden Meadow will produce benefits at a noteworthy scale,” said Alecia Weisman, SYRCL’s Watershed Science Program Manager and Project Manager for the Van Norden restoration. “Being about ten times larger than the average meadow in the Sierra Nevada, it is expected to provide outsized carbon benefits. Through a partnership with Dr. Ben Sullivan and the Soil and Ecology Lab at the University of Nevada—Reno, our team expects net carbon storage benefits of up to 78,100 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents over 20 years.” 

Pending funding, SYRCL will be leading much of the continued restoration and monitoring that will be occurring over the coming years. 

This project would not be possible without support from the Wildlife Conservation Board, The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Truckee Donner Land Trust, The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s California Climate Investments Program, Placer County Tourism Master Plan grant program, and The Martis Fund—a collaborative project of Martis Camp landowners, DMB/Highlands Group (the developers of Martis Camp), Mountain Area Preservation (MAP), and Sierra Watch. SYRCL and Tahoe NF would also like to acknowledge landowners, Boreal Ridge Corporation, and Sugar Bowl Corporation for their participation in this large-scale meadow restoration effort.  

The Van Norden Meadow Restoration project is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment — particularly in disadvantaged communities. 

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