A Vision of Restoration from a Record California Winter
A myriad of local, state, and federal partners are working to restore some of the largest meadow systems in California and recover one of the West's most iconic native trout.
In the Eagle Lake watershed – located east of Mount Lassen National Park – a myriad of local, state, and federal partners are working to restore some of the largest meadow systems in California and recover one of the West’s most iconic native trout. The wettest winter on record gives us a look at what these restored meadows might soon offer as new habitat for the imperiled Eagle Lake rainbow trout.
This is the intersection of Little Harvey Creek and Pine Creek, aptly named ‘Confluence meadow’. Under normal circumstances, this meadow is dry and doesn’t support a healthy and diverse aquatic community of species. Like many of the meadows in the Pine Creek watershed, it is dewatered by decades of channel incision due to a variety of legacy land uses in the watershed. That unnaturally-deep and straight channel on the left of the photo above acts like an open cut, draining groundwater from the meadow, and leaving the great-looking habitat on the right of the photograph high and dry. Restoration work at this site proposes to abandon the left channel so that Pine Creek will flow through the meadow floodplain like it once did naturally, providing surface water longer into the hot summer months. Flood waters will soak deep into the meadow, be stored as groundwater, and recharge Pine Creek with cold, clean water to support, among other species, naturally spawning Eagle Lake rainbow trout.
The Eagle Lake rainbow trout is an endemic, at-risk California native trout species that has not successfully spawned in the Pine Creek watershed in considerable numbers since the 1950’s, largely due to poor watershed condition, a man made fish barrier, and inadequate flows. A fish ladder was installed over the barrier in 2012, but low flows during the drought and poor habitat condition have prevented spawning in recent years. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s conservation strategy, meadow restoration is an integral component to recovering the species.
Thanks to the record winter, we get a glimpse of what a working floodplain and functional meadow will once again look like. Solving complex watershed issues takes time, vision, and a strong and broad partnership. Partners working towards long-term goals to recover Eagle Lake rainbow trout include the US Forest Service, Eagle Lake Guardians, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Susanville Indian Rancheria, UC Davis, the Honey Lake Resource Conservation District, local ranchers and anglers, Trout Unlimited, and American Rivers.
By David Lass and Luke Hunt
Dave Lass is California Field Director for Trout Unlimited. Luke Hunt is Director of Headwaters Conservation for American Rivers.
Photos courtesy Trout Unlimited, Drone Productions, and Todd Sloat