Van Norden meadow (Yayalu Itdeh in Washoe), an important Sierra meadow at the headwaters of the South Yuba River, was purchased in 2012 and saved from development by the Truckee Donner Land Trust, multiple local conservation groups, and thousands of local community members who supported the campaign and raised funds to save this property. SYRCL, in partnership with the US Forest Service, Tahoe National Forest (USFS), the Truckee Donner Land Trust (TDLT), and other partners are working together to restore 485 acres of meadow habitat in Van Norden meadow. The restoration involves conducting key scientific studies to address specific uncertainties about how meadow restoration actions impact meadow hydrology, ecology, biology, and the vulnerability of meadows to climate change. The project partners have been monitoring Van Norden meadow since 2008 and we anticipate that our long-term baseline data will lead to greater understanding of specific uncertainties surrounding the response of meadow hydrology, headwater streamflow, vegetation and wildlife communities, and climatic vulnerability to meadow restoration actions aimed at restoring ecosystem function.
Project Update (also, see project landmarks below)
July 2023: The unveiling of the project following a record-breaking winter:
Following a record-breaking winter, SYRCL scientists were eager to check in on the success of the restoration build completed in 2022 during Phase 1 of the Van Norden Meadow Restoration Project! On June 30th, 2023, SYRCL, the Tahoe National Forest, and the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences toured the site and began documenting the hydrologic connectivity stimulated by the restoration actions. By using restoration tools such as channel fill, road improvements, and beaver dam analogs, the project team was able to successfully connect the formerly incised channels in the meadow with their remnant floodplain. As seen in the drone imagery, countless broad swales that make up the floodplain in Van Norden Meadow are reconnected and full of water, moving water laterally across the meadow, promoting groundwater recharge, revegetation of native wetland plants, and providing increased habitat for wildlife. This is a huge success, especially following the extreme amount of precipitation the site received this year. The project team also identified two areas that will be worked on in the fall of 2023 using adaptive management techniques, such as sedge mats, willow stakes and fascines, to ensure integrity and revegetation in the project build.
Throughout the summer, SYRCL’s Watershed Science Department, along with research partners from Point Blue Conservation Science, UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, and the University of Nevada-Reno, will continue to monitor the meadow to track anticipated ecosystem benefits such as groundwater, stream flow, carbon storage, plant communities, changes in geomorphology, birds, and amphibians. These monitoring efforts will continue through 2026 and build on the extensive baseline data collected to date.
The project team plans to focus on adaptive management and additional conifer removal around the meadow from late September into October 2023. Phase 2 of the project, focusing on the Lytton Fan area of the meadow is expected to commence in fall of 2024.
November 2022: Phase 1 of the Van Norden Meadow Restoration Project included channel fill in 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 Van Norden Meadow Restoration Project has been planned by the Tahoe National Forest and SYRCL. SYRCL has received funding from the Wildlife Conservation Board, Martis Fund, Truckee Donner Land Trust, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and CA Department of Fish and Wildlife to pursue restoration of the meadow.
July 2023: The unveiling of the project following a record-breaking winter
Awarded $3.7 million from the Wildlife Conservation Board’s Forest Conservation grant program to implement Phase One
May 26, 2022
$1.9m grant from California Department of Fish and Wildlife to complete restoration designs, implement the restoration project, and conduct monitoring.
May 1, 2019
Public Engagement Timeline
Tahoe National Forest and SYRCL hosted two tours of Van Norden Meadow in late 2021 after the Tahoe National Forest released the Proposed Action.
In 2020, despite challenges posed by COVID-19, the Van Norden Restoration Project made solid progress on an alternative restoration design. The project team created a surface water model to show how this restoration design would alter the distribution of water across the meadow, at a variety of flow conditions. In November 2020, a Virtual Community Meeting was held to share restoration design alternatives with our community. Rachel Hutchinson of the Tahoe National Forest and Alecia Weisman of SYRCL joined forces to present restoration design alternatives, big picture timelines, model outputs on the meadow surface, recreation opportunities, and invasive species and conifer removal plans.
From 2017 to 2019, several big changes happened in Van Norden Meadow. The existing dam infrastructure was deemed unsafe, and a plan to notch the dam with a concrete spillway was put in motion. Additionally, the Tahoe National Forest acquired the majority of the property from Truckee Donner Land Trust. During this time, SYRCL continued collecting baseline data to monitor changes in Van Norden Meadow. SYRCL also took this time to integrate the comments and suggestions made by the community at the 2017 meeting into their long term plans. At this juncture, it was decided that funds should go towards the consideration of an alternative restoration design approach to bring to the community in 2020.
In March 2017, more than 50 interested people ventured out on a snowy evening to learn more about the meadow and provide feedback about the proposed restoration design. Presenters were Rachel Hutchinson of SYRCL, Joanne Roubique and Randy Westmoreland of the Tahoe National Forest, and Ryan Burnett of Point Blue. The evening began with an overview from SYRCL about the importance of meadows, meadow restoration, and ongoing scientific monitoring at the meadow. Burnett of Point Blue explained the importance of meadow habitat for birds and showed how Van Norden Meadow, even in a degraded state, is providing good habitat for birds and has provided a refuge for many species during the long drought. Finally, Westmoreland of the Forest Service explained the proposed meadow restoration design and provided an overview of the current hydrologic condition of the meadow.
In September 2017, SYRCL and the Tahoe National Forest hosted a field tour of the property. The tour focused on actions that were being proposed in the meadow to restore the meadows hydrology. Feedback from this tour was incorporated into proposed restoration designs.
The restoration project will target many of the priorities listed by state of California’s Wetlands Restoration for Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program, the NFWF Business Plan, and California’s Water Action Plan, including:
(1) achieving the protection and restoration of important mountain meadow ecosystems,
(2) improving stream flow and drought preparedness, and
(3) managing headwaters for multiple benefits.
Once implemented, this project will result in improved meadow habitat and ecological function, improved hydrologic function, improved water quality and increased summer base flows, increased carbon storage, and the improvement of the overall resiliency of the headwaters of the South Yuba River to changing climatic conditions. The project will also lead to greater scientific understanding of meadow processes which can be applied to meadows and headwater streams across the Sierra region.
The proposed actions for this project include filling sections of the South Yuba River and Castle Creek to reconnect the meadow floodplain to the streams, increasing the groundwater levels within the meadow. Willow and sedge planting will occur in areas where native plant recruitment is desired. In addition, invasive species removal will occur for reed canary grass and encroaching conifers will be removed along the meadow edges.
Project Partners: US Forest Service, Tahoe National Forest, Truckee Donner Land Trust, UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, cbec ecoengineering, Balance Hydrologics, Stantec, Point Blue, University of Nevada-Reno, and Gateway Mountain Center.
For more information, please contact:
Watershed Science Director
(530) 265-5961 ext. 224