Sierra Meadow Restoration: Where to Start?

American Rivers developed a meadow condition scorecard that is useful for rapidly providing data to help prioritize restoration. This process has been very successful for galvanizing collaboration and funding to restore high priority meadows.

Forestdale Meadow in the Upper Carson watershed.

Over the last decade, momentum for restoring Sierra Nevada meadows has been building. The State of California and the U.S. Forest Service have both increasingly recognized the benefits of meadow restoration for California watersheds and are now committed to meadow restoration. Healthy meadows provide a suite of benefits including improved groundwater storage, enhanced water quality, reduced peak flood flows, and critical habitat.

Meadows in the Truckee River watershed.

However, with an estimated 50 percent of the 191,000 acres of meadow in the Sierra (Sierra Meadows Strategy, 2016) degraded by human impacts, it is difficult to know where to start. To address this, in 2010, American Rivers partnered with UC Davis and the U.S. Forest Service to develop the Meadow Condition Scorecard, a rapid assessment method to quickly assess overall meadow condition and help identify meadows in need of restoration.

Since 2010, American Rivers has used this method in 11 watersheds throughout the Sierra. It has also been used by project partners including UC Davis and California Trout.

Map of Meadows Assessed in the Carson watershed. (Click to enlarge.)

Last year, with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, American Rivers completed scorecard assessments in two major Sierra watersheds, the Carson River and Truckee River. We assessed a total of 28 meadows in the Carson watershed and 30 meadows in the Truckee watershed for a total 58 meadows across 3380 acres. We then worked collaboratively with diverse stakeholders to prioritize the most important sites for restoration based on the scorecard data and other factors like water supply and wildlife benefits. The results of these assessments and others are available via the UC Davis Sierra Nevada Meadows Data Clearinghouse. For the full reports, see the links below.

Restoring Carson Meadows: Assessment and Prioritization

Restoring Truckee Meadows: Assessment and Prioritization

The meadow scorecard assessments have been an important tool for collaboratively identifying top-priority projects and galvanizing support. For example, as a result of this process in the Carson and Truckee watersheds, American Rivers and partners identified 12 priority meadows and have already raised $455,000 to restore the first four sites.

We plan to continue to use the scorecard to identify priority projects and bolster support for meadow restoration, including completing a new assessment of wilderness meadows in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks this coming summer.

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