Mountain Meadow Restoration

If you spend time hiking in California’s Sierra Nevada, there’s a good chance that you will find your way to a mountain meadow. The beauty and lush contrast of meadows compared to the surrounding forest make them favorite destinations. Meadows cover only a small fraction of the overall landscape, but are critical to the larger watersheds of rivers because of their unique hydrologic and ecological functions.

American Rivers is currently working on the critical needs of our Sierra Meadows with several different projects, including: Sierra Wide Meadows, Hope Valley Meadow, Bear Valley Meadow and Meadows and Grazing, and with numerous meadow restoration tools and informational publications.

Why do we need to restore meadows?

Healthy meadows provide outstanding natural benefits: Meadows store spring floodwaters and release cool flows in late summer; they filter out sediment and pollutants, produce high-quality forage and provide habitat for rare and threatened species. Private ranchers, foundations, utilities, government agencies, conservation groups and others are all investing in meadow restoration as it becomes clear what a healthy meadow can provide.

Meandering meadow creeks support high levels of groundwater, which replenish streams during dry summer months and create rich biological diversity.

Human interference is the biggest cause of mountain meadow degradation. We  started the cycle of erosion when we  built roads and trails, overgrazed livestock, and ditched and diverted streams within meadows. The eroded stream in a degraded meadow drains snowmelt quickly downstream, drawing down the natural meadow water table and encouraging non-meadow species to take over.

Degraded meadows cause a wealth of problems that affect the larger watershed.

Envision Restored Meadows

Although meadow restoration has been practiced for decades, there are still many gaps in our knowledge of effective restoration implementation and execution. American Rivers is working to demonstrate and validate restoration practices to improve water quality, in-stream habitat, and water storage capacity.  Objectives which support this goal are to:

  • Connect diverse interests in support of restoration
  • Standardize monitoring methods used to evaluate success
  • Quantify the benefits provided by restored meadows
  • Build capacity in the Sierra through training and outreach
  • Develop a toolbox of meadows restoration techniques, describing when where and how they are most effectively used
  • Develop and implement a procedure for prioritizing meadows for restoration
  • Integrate climate and hydrologic change into restoration designs
  • Design and manage projects to include the beliefs and culture of the native people

To find out more about how we are tackling these complex and multifaceted objectives look at our projects:Sierra Wide Meadows, Hope Valley Meadow, Bear Valley Meadow and Meadows and Grazing or check out our Meadow Restoration Publications page for meadow restoration tools and informational reports.