The Sierra Nevada mountain range is home to gorgeous vistas, abundant plant and animal life, and world-renowned locales. Snow melt from the mountains fills the rivers and reservoirs that sustain California’s economy and environment.
Mountain meadows, in particular, are key habitats for many animal species because they provide water and shade during the dry summer season. Approximately two-thirds of California’s birds and amphibians depend upon meadows and the niches they create; during summer months, montane meadows are considered the single most important habitat in the Sierra Nevada for birds.
However, overgrazing, road-building, mining, logging, development, and catastrophic wildfire have resulted in the widespread deterioration of the majority of the 10,000 meadows in the Sierra Nevada.
In 2009, NFWF launched its Sierra Nevada Meadow Restoration Program to replenish the health and biodiversity of the mountain meadow regions. The program focuses on creating the momentum to restore and protect thousands of acres of meadow in the Sierra Nevada. We believe that this momentum will come from both research and implementation projects.
Meadow restoration produces immediate changes in habitat that can be documented and connected to outcomes: ground water levels are raised, streams recharged, and montane meadow habitat enhanced. The benefits to wildlife are clear: wildlife readily colonize restored sites, and population increases can be documented and monitored over time.
Together, NFWF's Sierra projects will demonstrate the ability of meadow restoration to increase or sustain summer water flows; mitigate effects of climate change; improve foraging opportunities for the ranching community, and increase biological diversity in the systems. Our vision is that the majority of degraded meadows in the Sierra Nevada range will be enhanced to provide increased benefits for wildlife, fish and people.
Key conservation actions for this program include:
- Quantify ecosystem service benefits: conduct hydrologic and water quality assessments to predict and measure changes in groundwater levels and downstream flow;
- Build organizational capacity: provide capacity-building in watersheds where restoration planning and implementation is limited by insufficient personnel;
- Repair meadow degradation: support restoration projects in meadow systems in which it will be possible to quantify benefits;
- Ensure long-term protection: support land protection and deploy best management practices;
- Garner support of ranching community: improve information flow and provide technical assistance; and
- Monitor and document ecological and biological responses to meadow restoration.
Since the program launched in 2009, 3,200 acres of meadow and associated hydrology have been directly supported. Another 6,700 acres of meadow are in restoration planning, design, and permitting phases to prepare the sites for implementation. In addition, NFWF has exceeded its goal of increasing Lahontan Cutthroat Trout populations by 3% over their 2008 baseline.
This conservation program has also produced “game-changing” studies examining the economics of meadow restoration, downstream effects on water uses, and population responses to restoration by meadow-associated bird communities.
For more detail on priority activities, please see NFWF’s Sierra Nevada Meadows Business Plan.