The Sierra Nevada grasslands — about 10,000 of them — have deteriorated dramatically over the past century due to road building, overharvesting of habitat, development and catastrophic wildfires, according to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
The South Yuba River Citizens League has received $3.746 million from the Wildlife Conservation Board’s Forest Conservation Grants Program to implement the first phase of the restoration of Van Norden Meadow – “Yayalu Itdeh” in Washoe – in partnership with the Tahoe National Forest.
SYRCL will begin restoration in July of a 485-acre expanse of grassland that collects water from spring runoff from Castle Peak, Sugar Bowl and Razorback Ridge. Work will end in October due to the rainy season and resume the following summer. After two years, SYRCL’s River Science project manager, Alecia Weisman, said, “Follow the recreational actions to follow by (Tahoe National Forest).”
Eight hundred and eighty acres of grassland were originally acquired by the Truckee Donner Land Trust in 2012 as part of the 3,000 acre acquisition of Royal Gorge.
According to Jonathan Birdsong of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the foundation he works for is “approved by Congress” to raise federal and non-federal funds for different projects – grassland restoration, in this case.
“Compared to the average forest, a healthy grassland stores six times the average,” Weisman said.
Weisman said moist prairie soils with productive sedges photosynthesize and convert carbon dioxide to biomass faster than microbes can break it down and convert it back to carbon dioxide.
“Thus, net carbon storage occurs and is protected from physical carbon losses such as erosion due to the slow movement of water in a healthy grassland, supported by its thick vegetation,” Weisman said.
Weisman said wetlands make up only 2% of the federal landscape. The means of their degradation — and their restoration — have already been proven.
“The original causes of degradation are human-made,” Weisman said, citing sheep grazing, ice harvesting and the addition of infrastructure as factors that have eroded culverts over the past two centuries. .
Weisman said thousands of sheep were trampling the edges of stream channels, contributing to grassland erosion.
“Rashers have been known to dig ditches in grasslands,” Weisman said, adding that while the nonprofit has no evidence of a “ditch” in Van Norden, “it was certainly heavily grazed all over. throughout the 1800s and 1900s.
Weisman said the creation of infrastructure helped incise the canals, including the county road on the innermost side of Meadow Trail Road and Highway 40.
“Water would typically flow down the hills into the prairie, but because of infrastructure and culverts, water is channeled and erosion has increased,” Weisman said.
Reed canarygrass was also introduced by pioneers, Weisman said.
“It’s super aggressive and outperforms other native grassland species,” Weisman said. “If we were to let go, it would create a monoculture.”
Weisman said the project is multifaceted.
“Our implementation plan includes full channel infilling in southern Yuba and Lytton Creek, and Beaver Dam analogs in Upper Castle Creek,” Weisman said. “These actions will allow the water to rise in the floodplain and reconnect these channels with their floodplain.
“Spreading the water currently flowing through the prairie in three major channels incised outward and across the wide open floodplain will reduce flow velocity and the erosive potential of surface flows,” Weisman added. .
“Water will be able to flow into the many remaining prairie swales,” she said. “The presence of increased vegetation cover that we expect to achieve after restoration will further slow flows and reduce erosion. We have a comprehensive revegetation plan that will use native seeds and willow cuttings. »
Weisman said SYRCL will rely on Van Norden Meadow’s 28 groundwater wells and three flow gauges that monitor hydrology, while partnering with the University of Nevada, Reno Soil Ecology Lab to monitor advances in carbon storage.
“We are running this project in conjunction with the Tahoe National Forest,” Weisman said. “The majority of funding is obtained from the state through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s climate change initiatives and Prop 68.”
Weisman said the entire two-year project will cost $6 million.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com