Van Norden Meadow to be restored over the next 2 years
The Sierra Nevada’s meadows — some 10,000 of them — have significantly deteriorated in the last century because of road building, overuse of habitat, development and catastrophic wildfire, according to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
The South Yuba River Citizens League was awarded $3.746 million from the Wildlife Conservation Board’s Forest Conservation grant program to implement Phase One of the restoration of Van Norden Meadow — “Yayalu Itdeh” in Washoe — in partnership with the Tahoe National Forest.
SYRCL this July will begin restoration on a 485-acre swath of meadow that collects water from spring runoff from Castle Peak, Sugar Bowl and Razorback Ridge. Work will finish in October due to the wet season, and resume the following summer. After two years, SYRCL’s River Science Project Manager Alecia Weisman said, “follow up recreation actions to be followed up by (Tahoe National Forest).”
Eight hundred-eighty acres of meadow were originally acquired by the Truckee Donner Land Trust in 2012 as part of the 3,000-acre Royal Gorge Acquisition.
According to Jonathan Birdsong, of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the foundation he works for is “congressionally chartered” to leverage federal and nonfederal funds for different projects — meadow restoration, in this case.
“Compared to the average forest, a healthy meadow stores six times the average,” Weisman said.
Weisman said moist meadow soils with productive sedge photosynthesize and convert carbon dioxide to biomass faster than microbes can decompose it and convert it back to carbon dioxide.
“Thus, net carbon storage occurs and is protected from physical losses of carbon such as erosion due to the slow movement of water in a healthy meadow, supported by its thick vegetation,” Weisman said.
Weisman said wetlands only make up 2% of the federal landscape. Means of their degradation — and restoration — have already been proven.
“The original causes of degradation are human induced,” Weisman said, naming sheep grazing, ice harvesting and added infrastructure as factors that eroded culverts over the last two centuries.
Weisman said thousands of sheep trampled the edges of stream channels, contributing to meadow erosion.
“Ranchers have been known to dig ditches in meadows,“ Weisman said, adding that although the nonprofit does not have evidence of ”ditching“ in Van Norden, ”it was certainly heavily grazed throughout the 1800s and 1900s.“
Weisman said the creation of infrastructure contributed to channel incision, including the county road on the innermost side of the Meadow Trail Road and Highway 40.
“The water would typically flow off the hillsides into the meadow, but because of the infrastructure and culverts, the water is channelized and the erosion increased,” Weisman said.
Reed canary grass was also introduced by pioneers, Weisman said.
“It’s super aggressive and out-competes other native meadow species,” Weisman said. “If we were to let it go, it would create a mono-culture.”
Weisman said the project is multifaceted.
“Our implementation plan includes full channel fill within the South Yuba and Lytton Creek, and Beaver Dam analogs in Upper Castle Creek,” Weisman said. “These actions will bring water up onto the floodplain and reconnect these channels with their floodplain.
“Spreading water that currently flows through the meadow in three main incised channels out and across the wide open floodplain will reduce flow velocity and erosive potential of surface flows,” Weisman added.
“The water will be able to flow into the many remnant swales throughout the meadow,” she said. “The presence of increased vegetative cover that we expect to result after restoration will further slow flows and reduce erosion. We have a comprehensive revegetation plan that will use native seed and willow cuttings.”
Weisman said SYRCL will rely on Van Norden Meadow’s 28 groundwater wells and three stream gauges that monitor the hydrology, while partnering with the University of Nevada, Reno Soil Ecology Lab to monitor carbon storage progress.
“We manage this project in collaboration with the Tahoe National Forest,” Weisman said. “The majority of funding is secured from the state through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife climate change initiatives and through Prop 68.”
Weisman said the entirety of the two-year project will cost $6 million.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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