Bear Valley Meadow Restoration Project

American Rivers is leading efforts to restore 280 acres of wetland meadow habitat in the northern Sierra Nevada. This innovative project will provide the first model of how to restore both cultural and ecological integrity to Sierra Nevada meadows while simultaneously integrating climate change predictions into the restoration design process.

Situated between the bustling Sacramento Valley and iconic Lake Tahoe, this project is critical to promoting meadow restoration throughout the Sierra for multiple reasons. Most meadows in the Sierra were and still are important cultural sites for Native Americans. Acknowledging and integrating these cultural values into meadow restoration will likely improve and further this type of work in the future.

This project will also develop, demonstrate, and disseminate the hydrologic analysis needed to design sustainable meadow restoration projects. No other meadow restoration project in the Sierra has gone to such effort to quantify the potential for improving groundwater storage function as a result of meadow restoration. Lastly, the Bear Valley Meadow Restoration Project is one of the few projects in the Sierra that is easily accessible to the urban and political centers of Sacramento and the Bay Area. The accessibility of Bear Valley provides an opportunity for decision makers to easily witness an on-the-ground project, thus promoting legislative changes that value and further meadow restoration efforts.


The Bear River courses through Bear Valley Meadow, providing cold-water stream habitat for rainbow and brown trout and habitat for special status species such as the willow flycatcher and yellow-legged frog, as well as an impressive annual display of wildflowers. Additionally, Bear Valley and the surrounding area offer a migration corridor and winter range for regional deer populations.

The Meadow is owned by Pacific Gas & Electric and is part of the company’s Drum-Spaulding hydroelectric project. The Drum-Spaulding Project is currently part of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing process, and PG&E is expected to receive a new operating license in 2013. American Rivers is leading efforts toward improved management and operation of this PG&E facility in order to provide healthier flows for the meadow. The meadow is also part of the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council’s Land Conservation Program, and thus will be conserved in perpetuity for public benefit as required by the settlement agreement between the California Public Utilities Commission and PG&E.

American Rivers, with help from its project partners – the Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe; The Sierra Fund; Yuba Watershed Institute; California State University, Sacramento; Stockholm Environment Institute; and the South Yuba River Citizen’s League – has recently completed the first phase of the Bear Valley Meadow restoration. This effort included a comprehensive and in-depth assessment of the health of the meadow and conceptual restoration plan.

Our assessment shows that while the Bear Valley Meadow maintains important ecological value and holds very significant cultural resources, the meadow has experienced degradation that diminishes its ecological function and productivity and does not adequately recognize or protect the cultural values it holds. In short, past and ongoing uses of the meadow have caused the Bear River to incise deeply into the meadow, preventing proper hydrologic connection between the river and its meadow floodplain. This adversely affects groundwater storage, vegetation, meadow and stream habitat, and other important ecological values.

American Rivers is spearheading the next steps needed to restore meadow function and vitality.  We have teamed up with the Restoration Design Group to develop a technical restoration design and hope to complete this and all necessary permitting in the near future so that on-the-ground restoration actions can proceed as soon as possible.

Funding for this critical project has been generously provided by the following:

  • Bella Vista Foundation
  • Sierra Nevada Conservancy
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation