Headwater Meadow Restoration in the Sierra Nevada: Adapting to Climate Change


Julie Fair and Luke Hunt, American Rivers
Project process and implementation: 

As noted above, the four sites included in this project were chosen for their mid-elevation location and because they had been identified as priority sites for restoration for their ecological value. In general, American Rivers takes a five step approach to meadow restoration projects: 1) Assessment and Design, 2) Environmental Compliance and Permitting, 3) Implementation, and 4) Adaptive Management and Monitoring. Specific details of the process and implementation of each site are included below.

In Hope Valley, a 2007 watershed assessment by MACTec Consulting identified the upper reach of the meadow as incised and unstable. In 2011, project partners hired design consultants to evaluate restoration options and develop concepts. These concepts were reviewed by a technical advisory committee of stakeholders, with the Forest Service as the ultimate decision maker.  Restoration designs were completed in 2014 and the partners pursued funding for restoration.  During the fundraising effort, the Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) requested that the project team extend the restoration boundaries downstream onto CDFW-owned land.  Designs were completed for this extended reach, and the project became a multi-agency partnership, with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), CA Wildlife Conservation Board and Wildlife Conservation Society as primary implementation funders. NFWF and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy funded the design and permitting phases.

China Camp Meadow is important sage-grouse habitat, and meadow restoration efforts were aimed at improving this habitat. The project used rock grade controls to improve stream channel slope and elevation, and controlled burning to encourage native vegetation growth. The project was completed in 2015.

In 2005, grazing permittees identified a moderate headcut at the lower end of Shell Meadow that was threatening to erode through the meadow. Since that time, the headcut has grown many times in size and has begun to move upstream. The site is breeding habitat for Yosemite toad. Headcut stabilization was scheduled for 2013, but the Rim Fire and subsequent Endangered Species Act listing of the Yosemite toad caused delays.  The project will be completed in 2015.

The Forest Service identified a constructed ditch that concentrates flow and drains groundwater from Elliot Meadow for restoration in 2007. Trees have grown up adjacent to the ditch, some 24 inches in diameter and more. In 2015, project partners will restore the site by removing the trees, filling the ditch with material from offsite, and grading the berms flat to restore natural surface flow. Invasive Klamath weed will be treated with releases of Klamath weed beetle.

The roles of project partners are as follows:

  • American Rivers: Write and manage grants and subcontracts, convene stakeholders, apply for permits for Hope Valley, manage Hope Valley, project specific monitoring.
  • Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest: Review and approve designs, complete NEPA, oversee construction in the field for Hope Valley.  Design and construction in China Camp.
  • Stanislaus National Forest: Design, NEPA permits, construction and monitoring
  • Tahoe National Forest : Design, NEPA and construction oversight in Elliot meadow.

Additional partners for Hope Valley include:

  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife: Approved funding through Wildlife Conservation Board. Approved designs for CDFW-owned lands. Consulted on designs for restoration.
  • Alpine Watershed Group and Friends of Hope Valley: Outreach to stakeholders, flow monitoring, coordinate volunteer plantings.
  • Institute for Bird Populations Avian monitoring, consult on designs from a migratory bird perspective
  • Trout Unlimited: Aquatic monitoring, consult on designs from a fish perspective
  • Waterways Consulting: Site assessment, project designs, oversee construction in Hope Valley

American Rivers, The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and Waterways Consulting worked closely throughout the design review and permitting process.

Project Outcomes: 

The overall goal of this project is to increase resiliency of headwaters regions through the protection and restoration of mountain meadows.Anticipated outcomes include:

  • Implementation of four on-the-ground restoration meadow restoration projects in headwater regions in the Sierra Nevada. This will result in improved hydrologic processes on 400 acres in four meadows across four watersheds, and will help to lessen the effects of reduced snowpack due to climate change.
  • 4,500 feet of stream habitat enhanced for fish and wildlife, enhancing climate adaptability for a range of species including the following sensitive species: willow flycatcher (Endangered), Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Candidate sp.), Yosemite toad (Candidate sp.) and sage grouse (ESA candidate species)
  • Enhancement of the benefits healthy meadows provide including: increased groundwater storage capacity, reduced peak flows, prolonged summer base flows, reduced in-stream water temperatures, and reduced sedimentation downstream.
  • Outreach to key stakeholders regarding meadow restoration tools, processes and incorporating climate change science in meadow restoration.

Learning Objectives: 

Partnerships can greatly accelerate the pace of restoration, especially in landscapes with active stakeholders. This is an example of a federal/state partnership that is working; however, a critical element is a non-government partner intent on involving stakeholders and able to efficiently contract for consulting and construction assistance.

Plant Species and Climate Profile Predictions


Maps of forest species-climate profiles were developed to help predict how forests, plant communities, and species may change on the landscape in response to climate change. Each species map depicts a ‘viability score’, which is an index on the interval zero to one that indicates how consistent the climate at a location is with the contemporary occurrence of a species. A low score at a given point in time or space indicates that the species does not occur (or very rarely occurs) in climates like those depicted at that location.


These maps provide information on where suitable future climate may be located for specific tree species under different climate scenarios.

Sea Level Rise and Lake Level Viewers

Overview & Applicability

Rising sea levels are being caused by a change in the volume of the world's oceans due to temperature increase, deglaciation (uncovering of glaciated land because of melting of the glacier), and ice melt. This data viewer can provide a preliminary look at sea level rise and how it might affect coastal resources across the United States (with the exception of Alaska and Louisiana). Data and maps can be used at several scales to help gauge trends and prioritize actions for different scenarios.


This data viewer can provide a preliminary look at sea level rise and how it might affect coastal resources across the United States (with the exception of Alaska and Louisiana). Data and maps can be used at several scales to help gauge trends and prioritize actions for different scenarios.

Science synthesis to support socioecological resilience in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade Range

This synthesis integrates recent research concerning socioecological resilience in the Sierra Nevada, southern Cascade Range, and Modoc Plateau. Among the focal topics are forest and fire ecology; soils; aquatic ecosystems; forest carnivores; air quality; and the social, economic, and cultural components of socioecological systems. A central theme is the importance of restoring key ecological processes to mitigate impacts of widespread stressors, including changes in climate, fire deficit and fuel accumulations, air pollution, and pathogens and invasive species.

Sierra Nevada Climate, Water Yield, and Water Quality

Pacific Southwest Research Station
Principal Investigator(s): 
Carol Hunsaker

Ten headwater catchments in the southern Sierra Nevada have been studied since 2003 with regard to climate conditions, water yield, and water quality. Five of the catchments are in the current rain-snow interface climate zone and five are in the snow-dominated zone. Since there is only a 1,000 foot difference between these zones, the higher elevation catchments are expected to transition to a combination of rain and snow as climate changes in California.  Studying how the lower elevation area functions gives us insight about how the higher elevation area will function with a changing climate; for the southern Sierra Nevada this is predicted to be less snow and more rain with about the same total amount of precipitation. This knowledge is very important as 50% of the surface water for California originates in the Sierra Nevada.

Project Status: 

Climate change and peak flows: Knowledge-to-action to help managers address impacts on streamflow dynamics and aquatic habitat

Pacific Northwest Research Station
Research Partners: 
Oregon State University
Principal Investigator(s): 
Gordon Grant, Anne Nolin, Becky Flitcroft

What will the rivers of the Pacific Northwest look like in the future? Will they be stable or unstable? Will they have salmon or other species? Will the waters be cold and clear or warm and muddy? These questions motivate our study of the effects of climate warming on streams draining the Cascade Mountains.

Previous studies have shown that snowpacks throughout the Cascades are highly vulnerable to warming temperatures, readily changing from snow to rain, and melting earlier. Less certain is how these changes are likely to affect streamflows, particularly in streams that derive much of their flow from deep groundwater and springs. These groundwater streams, which are currently characterized by very stable bed, banks, and vegetation, are particularly sensitive to increasing peak flows in the winter. We want to know how changing snowpacks and increased peak flows are likely to affect these channels, potentially changing their suitability as habitat for threatened species such as bull trout and spring Chinook. Results from our work, which include field and modeling components, will be used to guide management decisions affecting these streams: how dams are operated, whether water suppliers need to worry about turbidity, and how we should manage riparian vegetation.

Project Status: 
Record Entry Date: 
Tue, 09/23/2014

Coupling snowpack and groundwater dynamics to interpret historical streamflow trends in the western United States

Pacific Northwest Research Station
Research Partners: 
Oregon State University
Principal Investigator(s): 
Gordon Grant, Mohammad Safeeq

A key challenge for resource and land managers is predicting the consequences of climate warming on streamflow and water resources. Over the last century in the western US, significant reductions in snowpack and earlier snowmelt have led to an increase in the fraction of annual streamflow during winter, and a decline in the summer. This study explores the relative roles of snowpack accumulation and melt, and landscape characteristics or 'drainage efficiency', in influencing streamflow. An analysis of streamflow during 1950-2010 for 81 watersheds across the western US indicates that summer streamflows in watersheds that drain slowly from deep groundwater and receive precipitation as snow are most sensitive to climate warming. During the spring, however, watersheds that drain rapidly and receive precipitation as snow are most sensitive to climate warming. Our results indicate that not all trends in the western US are associated with changes in snowpack dynamics; we observe declining streamflow in late fall and winter in rain-dominated watersheds as well. These empirical findings have implications for how streamflow sensitivity to warming is interpreted across broad regions.

Project Abstract: 

See more below

Project Status: 
Research Results: 

Coupling snowpack and groundwater dynamics to interpret historical stream flow trends in the western United States -

Record Entry Date: 
Tue, 09/23/2014
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