Protecting Meadows as Green Infrastructure in the Face of Climate Change

Meadows are hotspots for biological diversity and provide numerous ecosystem benefits, especially in relation to the land mass they cover, including flood attenuation, sediment filtration, water storage, water quality improvement, carbon sequestration, and livestock forage.

Approximately 50% of meadows in the Sierra Nevada are known to be degraded, in large part due to land-use practices including overgrazing. Since 2016, The Sierra Fund’s work has aimed to enhance the regenerative capacity of meadows to perform their stabilizing functions in the face of these legacy practices and mounting climate change impacts using process-based restoration (PBR).

Our recent work on meadows has focused on the Red Clover Valley Ranch where we have designed and implemented revegetation, supported the installation of beaver dam analogs, and conducted restoration effectiveness monitoring. We have taken the lessons learned at Red Clover Valley to support the Maidu Summit Consortium (MSC), the nonprofit led by and serving several Mountain Maidu Tribal groups, in conducting and monitoring restoration activities in Tásmam Koyóm, the Maidu name for “Humbug Valley,” which was returned to MSC in a significant land transaction in 2019.

Unfortunately, these meadows, and much of the Sierra, are at risk of destructive wildfire due to historic land use practices including clear-cutting of the forests during the 19th century Gold Rush, and an era of active fire suppression to follow. In fact, both meadows, Red Clover Valley and Tásmam Koyóm, were impacted by the Dixie Fire in Plumas County.

With the very real threat of wildfire impacting these critical ecosystems, The Sierra Fund must remain engaged in work to understand and quantify restoration efforts, so that we can better protect meadows region-wide. The unprecedented wildfires in California provide an opportunity to test whether implementing PBR approaches could make use of the expected sediment pulses off burned hillslopes for meadow restoration that improves floodplain function with limited additional disturbance.

Recently, The Sierra Fund staff has assisted researchers with the US Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station (PSW) to develop and collect topographic stream channel surveys. The survey data will be combined with unmanned aircraft system (UAS) LiDAR scans to develop innovative high-resolution sediment and hydrologic models for Sierra Nevada meadows. This effort is part of a USFS, PSW study of catchment-scale restoration following wildfire in the northern and southern Sierra.

The team will be monitoring differences in sediment transport, deposition, streamflow and ecological responses to PBR actions in burned and unburned meadows. This work has been guided by the vast expertise of members of the Sierra Meadows Partnership and furthers the goal of the Sierra Meadow Strategy to restore 30,000 acres of Sierra montane meadows by 2030.