Pauley Creek Meadows Restoration

If you spend time hiking in the forests of the Sierra Nevada, there’s a good chance that you will find your way to a mountain meadow. The total area of these meadows occupies only a fraction of the forest landscape, but their beauty makes them favorite destinations.

One need only step from dense conifers or granite outcroppings to a bright oasis of grasses and wildflowers to know that mountain meadows are hotspots of biodiversity, havens of distinction. Ecologists and hydrologists confirm this instinct: Sierra meadows provide many critical ecological functions – both biological and physical.

American Rivers is leading the Pauley Creek Meadows Restoration Project in order to promote stewardship of this critical 440 acre Sierra meadow complex while restoring and maintaining ecosystem and community services. This project is important because it will not just restore one meadow, but rather a complex of three large meadows. Restoration of this complex will link meadow to meadow and create movement pathways across the broader landscape. In addition, this project will quantify and validate the benefits of meadow restoration in a prevalent geologic context that has not yet received attention.

Further, this project is designed to involve citizen monitors in carefully assessing, predicting, monitoring, and quantifying a range of ecosystem services before, during and after restoration, including water quality, summer flows, flood attenuation, habitat and forage production. This citizen-based monitoring effort will supply critical data regarding meadow restoration in the west side of the Central Sierra. The project will also provide a model of how to involve citizen monitors in meadow restoration – an important example as the US Forest Service and others gear up for large-scale meadow restoration across the Sierra.

Mountain meadows in the Sierra are degraded due to poor forest management, dams and diversions, mining, overgrazing, and the introduction of invasive, exotic species. As land and water managers see meadow restoration as a potential method to mitigate against the predicted impacts of climate change, planning for meadow restoration projects within National Forests and adjacent lands in the Sierra is beginning to take place. Missing from these efforts are:

  1. examples of action-oriented restoration projects with proper monitoring to demonstrate multiple benefits of restoration;
  2. outreach and education programs targeted at private land owners and county planners with a focus on increasing understanding about meadows and management options;
  3. collaborative projects that leverage citizen monitors for all phases of project implementation. American Rivers is striving to fill these critical gaps.

This project is part of a new initiative spearheaded by American Rivers and several other groups in the Sierra, and funded in part by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The intent of this effort is to explore the possibility of meadow restoration being a viable “green infrastructure” alternative to building new dams to store water from the earlier melt of the Sierra snowpack as a result of climate change.

Partners on this project include the South Yuba River Citizen’s League and the US Forest Service, Tahoe National Forest. Funding has been generously awarded by the National Forest Foundation.