Hope Valley Meadow Restoration: Benefits for Focal Bird Species

Yellow Warbler | Tom Munson

Yellow Warbler | Tom Munson

American Rivers is leading an effort to restore Hope Valley Meadow, an iconic recreation destination and integral component of the Upper Carson River watershed. Hope Valley Meadow is a valuable ecological and recreational resource, but has been significantly degraded by historical land use impacts.

American Rivers is currently working with diverse project partners to develop restoration designs to improve Hope Valley’s range of ecosystem services, including habitat improvements for birds and other wildlife.

To ensure that habitat improvements for Sierra meadow bird species were adequately included in restoration designs, American Rivers partnered with the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP), a lead organization in monitoring bird populations in the Sierra.

Over the past three field seasons IBP conducted various bird monitoring activities in Hope Valley to provide pre-project bird population data. Through their monitoring activities they developed a set of meadow focal species, including the California-endangered Willow Flycatcher and the California Species of Special Interest Yellow Warbler, to monitor for and to use as the basis for restoration design recommendations.

Willow Flycatcher | Institute of Bird Populations

Willow Flycatcher | Institute of Bird Populations

According to IBP, hydrology is a primary factor restricting habitat quality and quantity for meadow-associated focal bird species. All rely on the wet meadow type vegetation (e.g. grasses) and the insect food resources associated with saturated wet meadows, although some require wetter conditions than others. Also, many of the focal species require dense riparian shrubs, like willow, that require consistent moisture to thrive.

Due to historical land use impacts, these conditions do not currently exist in much of Hope Valley Meadow. In many places the stream channel is incised below the meadow surface by 4-15 feet, preventing wet meadow vegetation and riparian shrubs from acquiring the moisture they need to survive on the meadow surface.

Restoration designs for Hope Valley include several elements that will benefit focal bird species. The primary activity of the Hope Valley Meadow restoration design is bank stabilization. In many places, this will include felling chunks of turf into the channel to create a low, stable toe where there was previously a high eroding bank. Wet meadow vegetation and dense riparian shrubs can acquire enough moisture grow on these low toes, both stabilizing the base of the banks and providing food and cover for many focal species.

It will also include planting willow on about 20% the meadow’s stream channel to help stabilize low eroding banks. This will greatly expand habitat for species like the special species Willow Flycatcher and Yellow Warbler that are strongly linked to dense willow stands. The project will also take advantage of opportunities to create additional standing water depressions and alcoves. This will benefit focal species that depend on particularly wet conditions and standing water.

Urban watercyle

Example of a desired bird habitat in Hope Valley Meadow, CA | Daniel Nylen

IBP and American Rivers will compare pre and post project monitoring to observe improvements in focal species populations and gauge project success in terms of avian habitat improvement. Collaboration with partners like IBP will help ensure the Hope Valley project is successful in achieving a variety of project goals.