Local High School Students Restore Aspen in Loney Meadow

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In June 2021, SYRCL led our week-long Youth Outdoor Leadership Opportunity (YOLO) expedition with six local high school students with great success. 

Aspen and Xavi practice forestry skills at Pioneer Park during the YOLO Orientation

The YOLO 2021 expedition focused on teaching meadow-fringe aspen ecology, monitoring, and restoration by bringing the students to Loney Meadow, which sits within the Tahoe National Forest, for some hands-on learning. Together, these ambitious students installed over 800 feet of cattle exclusion fencing around vulnerable aspen sprouts to protect them from being trampled by grazing cattle. They also learned about the native flora and fauna found within meadow-fringe aspen stands and monitored the current structure of aspen trees by collecting data.

Why work to save aspen?

Meadow-fringe aspen stands are unique aspen communities often found in small stands in the Sierra Nevada. They play an essential role by serving as a shady, moist wildlife refuge for birds, insects, and deer, and fostering a rich diversity of plant life. Meadow fringe aspen are at risk of being lost in the Sierra Nevada, which is why scientists are studying, monitoring, and managing them for conservation. If you are interested in getting involved in aspen restoration within the Yuba River watershed, learn more about SYRCL’s upcoming Aspen Volunteer Day

Learning from Fieldwork 

The students worked hard, waking up early and spending all day in the meadow despite the high temperatures. But this didn’t seem to bother them. As one student told us, “I think the most important thing that I learned personally was that I really enjoy working in the field; even if it’s hot and hard work.”  

Alecia Weisman (River Science Program Manager), Monique Streit (River Education Manager), and Mary McDonnell (Forest Conservation Coordinator), who worked together to design and lead the program, were impressed with the students’ dedication to the project.

YOLO Expedition students after a day of aspen stand monitoring

“The YOLO students exceeded all my expectations in how much work we accomplished in a short amount of time, how enthusiastic and interested they were about the project, and how much fun they seemed to have. The students asked meaningful questions every step of the way that demonstrated their understanding of the importance of the restoration work and their greater passion for the natural world,” said Mary McDonnell. 

Students hard at work installing cattle exclusion fencing

Though they started as strangers coming from three different Nevada County schools (Forest Charter, Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning, and Ghidotti Early College High), all with limited knowledge or experience in meadow-fringe aspen ecology and restoration, they finished the week as friends with new memories, knowledge, skills, and shared experiences.  

Students walked away with an enhanced understanding and appreciation for our meadow ecosystems. When asked about their biggest takeaway, one student told us that Loney meadow “is a place that is relied upon by thousands of plants, insects, birds, and mammals. Even more than that, meadows like Loney are one of the Sierra Nevada’s most effective carbon sinks when they are healthy, so they can help us fight the effects of climate change.” Another told us: “I want people to know that Loney Meadow is an amazing and diverse ecosystem that needs to be preserved.” 

SYRCL is wholeheartedly grateful for the work the students did toward restoring the meadow and are proud of the students’ growth. The immersive program was made possible by a Biodiversity Conservation Grant from the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), with major support from Toyota Motor North America as well as matching funds from the National Forest Foundation.  

Student Takeaways

The change for some will be lasting. One student wrote: “To me YOLO seemed like the perfect combination of conservation action, the opportunity to learn more about my ecosystem, and the chance to meet fellow youth activists. I wanted to try and apply the knowledge I gained to try to implement my own conservation projects.” 

Another took away a new big picture perspective: “rewarding experiences can be hard but that just makes them even better.” 

Mary McDonnell teaches students how to collect data to monitor the current structure of an aspen stand

SYRCL has hosted the YOLO expedition for local youth since 2018 and plans to continue hosting YOLO in the future. If you or someone you know is a high school student interested in getting hands-on restoration experience within the Yuba River Watershed, then the YOLO program is a perfect fit. If you can’t wait until next summer, SYRCL is hosting an Aspen Volunteer Day on Saturday July 17. Come out and help restore the Yuba watershed’s aspen! 

Contact Monique at monique@yubariver.org to learn more about education opportunities.  

Contact Mary at mary@yubariver.org to learn more about restoration opportunities.  

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