Montane Meadows

SERCAL 2016 Technical Session, Tahoe

Chair: Ralph Vigil, Habitat Restoration Sciences, Inc.

Lead presenters in alpha order

Invasive Species Cover, Soil Type and Grazing Interact to Predict Long-term Grassland Restoration Success

Elise S. Gornish

University of California, Davis; 530.752.6314; 

Understanding of the factors responsible for driving reestablishment of degraded grassland plant communities is largely derived from short-term studies. In order to develop an understanding of the factors responsible for longer-term restoration outcomes in California annual grasslands, in 2015 I surveyed 12 fields in Davis, CA, that were seeded with native species mixtures starting in 2004. Using field surveys, I investigated how invasive plant richness and cover, native plant richness and cover, aboveground biomass, grazing, soil type, and restoration species identity might provide utility for explaining patterns of restoration success. I found a negative relationship between invasive cover and restoration cover, which was attributed to the slow establishment of seeded species and subsequent dominance by weeds. The relationship between invasive cover and restoration cover was modified by grazing, likely due to a change in the dominance of exotic forbs, which have a more similar growing season to restoration species, and therefore compete more strongly for late season moisture. Finally, I found that soil type was responsible for differences in the identity and abundance of invasive plants, subsequently affecting restoration cover. This work highlights the value of focusing resources on reducing invasive species cover, limiting grazing to periods of adequate moisture, and considering soil type for successful long-term restoration in California annual grasslands. Moreover, observations of long-term restoration outcomes can provide insight into the way mechanisms driving restoration outcomes might differ through time.


Hydrologic and Ecological Effects of Stream Restoration in a Montane Meadow

Chris Hammersmark

cbec, inc. eco engineering, 2544 Industrial Blvd., West Sacramento, CA 95691; 916.668.5236;

Stream restoration activities throughout California are numerous; however, the hydrologic and vegetative responses of these systems are poorly understood and rarely documented. To assess the hydrologic and vegetative responses to “pond and plug” stream restoration in a montane meadow system, a hydrologic model was developed and coupled to a suite of vegetation species distribution models. This approach was applied to a meadow and stream restoration project on Bear Creek, a tributary of the Fall River in the northeastern California. First, a complete hydrologic model was developed and used to simulate hydrologic conditions in the meadow under pre- and post-restoration conditions. Subsequently, vegetation data were combined with simulated water-table depths to develop habitat-suitability models for several species. Habitat suitability was predicted as a function of water-table depth and range during the growing-season. Results from the hydrologic model document three general hydrologic responses to the restoration actions: (1) increased groundwater levels and volume of subsurface storage; (2) increased frequency/duration of floodplain inundation and decreased magnitude of flood peaks and (3) decreased annual runoff and duration of baseflow in the restored reach. Results from the vegetation modeling indicate an increase in the spatial distribution of suitable habitat for mesic vegetation and a concomitant decrease in the spatial distribution of suitable habitat for xeric vegetation. The methods utilized in this study should be used to improve the setting of objectives and performance measures in restoration projects in similar environments, in addition to providing a quantitative, science-based approach to guide riparian restoration efforts.


Challenges, Creative Collaboration, and Cost-Effective Solutions for Enhancing Fish Habitat on a Regulated River, Little Truckee River below Stampede Dam, Nevada County, California

Brian Hastings*1, Dave Shaw1, Dave Lass (Trout Unlimited), Loren Roach and Mark Girard (Habitat Restoration Sciences, Deborah Urich (Tahoe National Forest), and Beth Christman (Truckee River Watershed Council)

1Balance Hydrologics, PO Box 1077, Truckee, CA 96160;

The Little Truckee River is one of the most prized recreational fly-fishing locations in the country, yet wild trout populations are limited to a small reach of the river, below Stampede Dam. Balance Hydrologics worked with staff from Tahoe National Forest (USFS), California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), Trout Unlimited, Truckee River Watershed Council, and volunteers to evaluate options and complete a scientific analysis in support of conceptual designs, permitting, and implementation of a project to improve habitat for multiple life-stages of wild trout. Balance staff worked with volunteers to collect field data to support design concepts and facilitate project implementation. CDFG supplemented the hydrologic data through habitat typing and quantitative surveys of fish species and abundance to help prioritize areas for enhancement and quantify baseline conditions. The pooled data from diverse stakeholders were then evaluated and synthesized into conceptual enhancement plans. Key habitat enhancement features included introduction and strategic placement of roughly 100 large rootwads and over 50 boulders. Willow replanting supplemented the instream and bank habitat components and were carried out by volunteers. Advanced conceptual plans were completed in 2011 and the project was implemented in the fall of 2015. This talk explores the challenges of instream habitat enhancements below a dam and describes the contributions from a diverse team and volunteers that contributed to a cost-effective project which resulted in fish habitat improvements, and recreational and local economic benefits.


How Reconnecting a Floodplain in Indian Valley Altered Streamflow

Julie Fair1, Maxwell Odland1, Austen Lorenz2, Bonnie Ricord1, and Luke Hunt*1

1American Rivers; 2San Francisco State University;

The deeply eroded channel through Indian Valley (Alpine County) was filled in 2012 using the plug-and-pond technique to reconnect the channel to the historic floodplain. After restoration, the previously intermittent stream has flowed continuously, despite California’s historic drought. Stream gauges above and below the meadow show that the meadow reduces high spring flows and increases low summer flows. Gauges also show incredibly intense thunderstorms corroborated by time-lapse photos and rapid rates of sedimentation. We will present flow and groundwater data, evaluate the Replenish model that Coca Cola prepared when funding this project and discuss how Indian Valley restoration fits expectations within the California Water Action Plan.


Building the Scientific Foundation for a Carbon Sequestration Protocol for Mountain Meadow Restoration

Amy Merrill*1, Mark Drew2, Stephen Hart2, Ben Sullivan4, Cody Reed4, Nate Lawrence1, Jim Wilcox5, Dave Weixelman6, Abby Dziegiel2, Levi Keszey2, Leslie Mink5, and Gia Martin5

1Stillwater Sciences; 2CalTrout; 3U.C. Merced; 4U.N. Reno; 5Plumas Corp; 6Forest Service Region 5;

Healthy mountain meadows provide many ecological benefits. Do they also sequester Carbon, resulting in a net reduction in GHG emissions? We present the first year of findings from a project with the sequential goals of measuring carbon sequestration in the field and then developing a meadow carbon protocol for the hydrologic restoration of degraded mountain meadows. Our team, the Sierra Meadow Restoration Research Partnership (SMRRP), includes ten partner institutions. We are employing a modified before-after, control-impact (BACI) design using seven impact (to be restored), seven control (to remain degraded), and four reference (‘ideal’ condition) meadows. The meadows range in location from the Upper Feather River to the Kern River Basins in the California Sierra Nevada. At all meadows, we use a common framework and set of field, laboratory, and data analysis protocols to populate a database on net soil C sequestration, including changes in soil carbon, NPP, and CO2, N2O and CH4 fluxes on the carbon-equivalent budget. We describe our research approach and present data on CO2, N2O, and CH4 fluxes from the first three seasons of field measurements. In addition, we present preliminary data on soil C storage (g/m2), aboveground plant biomass inputs (g/m2), biomass C:N ratios, and other ancillary measurements such as soil moisture and soil temperature. Furthermore, we describe our plans to use this growing body of data to build an empirical model of meadow C sequestration as part of a basis for a Sierra meadow carbon protocol for California.


Rates and Mechanisms of Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Unrestored Sierra Nevada Meadows

Cody C. Reed*1, Stephen C. Hart2, Amy E. Merrill3, Mark Drew4, and Benjamin W. Sullivan5

1University of Nevada Reno; 2University of California Merced, Sierra Nevada Research Institute 3Stillwater Sciences 4CalTrout, 5University of Nevada Reno

High-elevation riparian meadows are hydrologically controlled, highly productive ecosystems characterized by shallow water tables and hydric soils. In these ecosystems, anaerobic soils slow decomposition rates and create conditions that promote carbon sequestration, resulting in large soil carbon stocks. The stability of this carbon, however, is impacted by management practices. Sierra Nevada montane meadows are often focal points of human activity, placing them at risk for channel incision, loss of hydrologic function and increased soil carbon loss via erosion or enhanced decomposition. However, few data are available regarding fluxes of greenhouse gas (GHG) from unrestored Sierra Nevada meadows and the ability of restoration activities to increase carbon sequestration. To better understand the rates and mechanisms that control GHG dynamics in degraded Sierra Nevada meadows, we sampled soil GHG fluxes and physical and biological characteristics in 14 meadows with emphasis on 3 impacted meadows. Greenhouse gas fluxes and rates were measured in situ using a static chamber method. We also measured depth to groundwater, soil carbon content, bulk density, belowground biomass, and aboveground biomass. Our results suggest that degraded meadows may be significant sources of carbon dioxide and net sinks for methane and nitrous oxide. However, fluxes varied substantially among sites and seasons. Our results suggest that, if restoration can successfully restore the hydrology of meadow ecosystems, there is an opportunity to reduce GHG emissions from these ecosystems and increase carbon sequestration.


Adaptive Channel Restoration and Pipeline Protection in Upper Truckee Marsh

Edward Wallace*1, Julie Etra2, and Kristin Kuyper2

1Northwest Hydraulic Consultants; 626.440.0080; 2Western Botanical Services;

During the record snowmelt year of 2011, a portion of Trout Creek in the Upper Truckee Marsh completely filled with sand and gravel, causing the stream to avulse to the north approximately 70 feet. The avulsion resulted in the main flow being located over two sewer pipelines located along the edge of the marsh on property owned by the California Tahoe Conservancy. The inundation prevented normal maintenance by the South Tahoe Public Utility District, increasing the risk of a sewer overflow to the meadow. Erosion and channel development processes threatened the integrity of the sewer lines, manholes, and the pump station. After considering more structural alternatives, the District adopted an adaptive management approach using bio-technical methods to encourage re-direction of flows while protecting marsh resources. In consultation with the landowner and regulatory and resource agencies, a five-year adaptive management plan was developed. Two years of implementation actions are complete. The measures included removal of an abandoned road fill, revegetation with salvaged sod, construction of pilot channels in historical channel locations, placement of coir logs and sod berms, and creation of meadow hummocks to raise the elevation of the pipeline easement and increase hydraulic roughness using pre-planted coir mats, willow stakes, and shrubs. Adaptive management of bio-technical features and post-construction monitoring will occur for up to five years to ensure that the project meets its objectives. The project has substantially reduced risk to the pipelines and has successfully established stabilizing marsh vegetation in the avulsion area.


Yellow Starthistle Management through Carrying Capacity and Grazing

Jamie Wright*1, Barbara O. Bomfim2, and Lucas C R Silva3

110 Palm Avenue, Woodland, CA 95695; 530.908.7746;

The yellow starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis, is an invasive herb in the Sierra Nevada forests that has the ability to outcompete native plants and degrade their habitat. Such invasive plants can deplete soil moisture thus further making the area less inhabitable for other vegetation. In spite of its high ecological importance, little is known about growth rates of such species in its ecological niche within the Sierra Nevada forests. Such data can provide valuable inferences about the species carrying capacity. If the yellow starthistle is not growing exponentially, it could be inferred that the species is nearing or at its carrying capacity. Eradication of the yellow starthistle at its carrying capacity could be an efficient effort at removing the plant since the species reproduction rates are low. Once it has been determined that the yellow starthistle is at its carrying capacity, grazing could be an effective removal method. Goats could be an optimal grazer since they are able to consume yellow starthistles before and after the plant’s spikes are developed. Eradication of yellow starthistle at its carrying capacity should be coupled with other management practices to ensure a successful permanent removal. Once most or all yellow starthistle individuals are removed, native California Sierra Nevada perennials with deep root systems should be planted. The early establishment of native perennials could lower the chances of surviving yellow starthistle outcompeting the native species. 


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