Restoration of Hope Valley meadow in the works

Preservation of Hope Valley meadow is in the works. Photo/Provided

Preservation of Hope Valley meadow in Alpine County has been assured. Photo/Provided

By Anne Knowles

The restoration of Alpine County’s Hope Valley meadow has been a long time coming.

Within a year, work to restore a 400-acre portion of the 1,600-acre meadow, which includes three miles of the West Fork Carson River, should be complete.

That project, which is just the start of a long-term healing process, has been in the planning stages for five years. But everyone involved in the undertaking will tell you it all started more than a century ago.

“There had been heavy grazing there, sheep and cattle, since the Emigrant Trail days,” said Julie Fair, project manager with American Rivers in Nevada City. Her group is taking the lead on the restoration effort.

As a result, vegetation was nearly eliminated, causing erosion and incision that left some banks as much as 10 to 12 feet higher than the river and creeks, upending the overall ecosystem.

The meadow hasn’t been grazed for 20 years and during that time Friends of Hope Valley, a citizen’s group founded in 1985 to stop the installation of a power line in the valley, has been planting willows to stabilize the river’s banks.

Before that, the group was instrumental in saving the meadow from development.

In the early 1990s, ranchers in the area were planning to sell their land, possibly to a condo developer.

Friends of Hope Valley teamed up with the Trust for Public Lands, a 43-year-old organization that works to protect lands, to stop it.

There was a time when this area south of Lake Tahoe was slated to be paved over. Photo/Provided

There was a time when this area south of Lake Tahoe was slated to be paved. Photo/Provided

“We walked the halls of Congress and in 1992 we got $23 million to purchase the land,” Debbie Waldear, president, Friends of Hope Valley, told Lake Tahoe News.

The meadow was then turned over to the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which manage it now.

“Since then we’ve been the watch dog of the area. We prevented some logging and we’ve been doing restoration work everywhere,” Waldear said.

Now, American Rivers, in conjunction with its partners, is building on that work.

In 2011, it did an initial assessment of the meadow and, at the same time, the Alpine Watershed Group established its Hope Valley Meadows Stewards Program to collect data on the meadow in preparation for the restoration.

“Our goal is to protect water quality and the integrity of the meadow,” Shane Fryer, watershed coordinator for the Alpine Watershed Group, said. For the watershed group, the goals are to drop water temperature, lower the alkaline content and extend the river’s flow season past August.

“It’s an important water source for Carson Valley,” Fryer said.

After the initial assessment, Waterway Consulting Inc. in Santa Cruz and River Run Consulting Inc. in Cedarville did a more detailed plan.

From that, American Rivers determined the project should use a more “light-handed approach,” to the restoration, according to Fair.

A popular technique to quickly raise the water table is to do what she called pond and plug.

“You put in a series of berms in the channel and it raises the water table without damming it,” she told Lake Tahoe News. “It mimics what beavers do.”

It also creates ugly ponds, which eventually fill in with sediment. But it’s costly and causes more disturbances to the watershed.

“So we decided to focus on stabilizing the banks rather than raising the water table rapidly,” said Fair.

To do that, American Rivers is using several methods, including additional vegetation planting and excavating sod from high banks to essentially bring the meadow back down to the water.

“It’s a pilot in one part and if we had all the money in the world, we’d do that everywhere. It would create a wet meadow right away. We’ll see if we want to do more of it,” she said.

Another technique is using logs to stabilize the banks.

“You put in logs with roots still attached and lay the out with the root wad in the water and stabilize with other logs and willows,” Fair said. “The root wads will push flows away from the banks, create a buffer and as flows meander it creates a great fish habitat.”

The log crib structure was the first phase of the project, completed last month by Habitat Restoration Sciences Inc., an engineering firm that works throughout California.

“We had a short window because of the permits,” Fair said.

The overall project, which is costing about $750,000 to construct, has required four permits.

“Permitting is a bottleneck. Some permits haven’t been streamlined for restoration and you have to meet the same criteria as development projects,” said Fair.

But no delay came from any protest to the permits.

“Throughout developing the designs we worked with the Alpine Watershed Group, the Friends of Hope Valley and had public meetings,” Fair said. “I think that was critical to the process. Everyone was engaged and it reflected what the community wanted.”

Beavers are good and bad when it comes to restoration. Photo/Provided

Beavers are good and bad when it comes to restoration. Photo/Provided

If any controversy remains, it’s over beavers, which are thriving there and have created more than 70 dams in the area at last count.

Everyone agrees they’re a mixed blessing, doing some of the restoration work, but some see the animals as more hindrance than help.

The beaver use the willows for dam making, reducing the vegetation, and the pools they create can heat up the water, said Fryer.

“Is this a beneficial use? The Forest Service will decide, they have management authority on this issue,” said Fryer. “We think the beaver should be managed where they’re a detriment and encouraged where they help.”

The remainder of the Hope Valley meadow restoration project is scheduled to be completed over a six to eight week period next summer.

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    Comments (20)
    1. Isee says - Posted: November 23, 2015

      While planting willows and logs in banks can make a difference to the river system, what is being done can be undone in one giant gully washer like ’97.The goal of lowering water temps conflicts with the goal of a wet meadow. You spread the water out and it gets warmer. Warm water is not trout friendly water. We can never get it back to where it was pre-settlers. I have seen the test spots. IMO it needs to be left alone.

    2. Dub says - Posted: November 23, 2015

      Go look at what the usfs is doing on the upper truckee river below elks club. Incredible disturbance in a meadow system that is already functioning beautifully. Heavy equipment has been in there for years digging a new river while the old river is perfect. This method of Restoration requires to much disturbance. It’s better off being left alone for sure.

    3. Chief Slowroller says - Posted: November 23, 2015

      I think they should leave the River the way it is and let Nature do her job.

    4. Kits Carson says - Posted: November 23, 2015

      Once again the Forest Circus is pretending to know more than Mother Nature.

    5. Tahoebluewire says - Posted: November 23, 2015

      Several of my close friends are on the US Forest Service field team that does these restorations. Even a quick read on these projects explains what they are doing and why. These comments here on this article display the ignorance and stupidity of the average citizen.

    6. Tahoebluewire says - Posted: November 23, 2015

      Dub? You have absolutely no idea how a estuary functions. The upper truckee is a disaster and is most certainly not functioning beautifully.

    7. Dub says - Posted: November 23, 2015

      Blue. The question is “do you?”. And what are you talking about with estuary?? Please google that word as you’re making yourself sound pretty ridiculous as you attempt to belittle others. The sunset reach that is being rebuilt does function beautifully and is natural and wasn’t disturbed until they put a excavator in the meadow.

    8. Justice says - Posted: November 23, 2015

      Nature restores man destroys. Trying to reinvent nature will fail. The flood of 97 was the most important event in the Carson watershed and it alone did more than the forest circus could ever do and when another flood happens in will do the same. This kind of article is for fund raising and justification for large amounts spent and soon to be.

    9. Janis McKinney says - Posted: November 23, 2015

      Seems a waste of money. Mother Nature can’t be managed.

    10. billy the mountain says - Posted: November 23, 2015

      ‘I can’t understand something to be possible; therefore it is not possible’
      ‘I am unaware that something has been done before; therefore it has not been done’

    11. Robin Smith says - Posted: November 23, 2015

      Nature does not respect human cycles.

    12. billy the mountain says - Posted: November 24, 2015

      Yes… that is part of the reason why meadows respond so poorly to being modified to support even moderate amounts of grazing…..

      I am sure American Rivers has some information to help you understand how and why meadow restoration is possible but you have to be honestly interested in learning new things, which I don’t think most of you “critics” are. That is not to say that you can’t learn, you just choose not to. Thankfully, unlike comments on the internet, there is a barrier to entry in the decision process that informs these projects. Theoretically enough uninformed opinions can prevent this work from happening, mostly in places like Texas where there is little to gain ecologically, but poetically in Hope Valley there is no shortage of hope. When you account for the science there is no irony in disturbing a meadow for 2 years with bulldozers to un-F 100 years of degradation.
      In the movie Idiocracy (a horrific modern day prophecy from the creator of Beavis and Butthead) the smartest man in the world always choose ‘get out of the way’ when faced with the hopefully motivational question: “lead, follow, or get out of the way”. This fourth option of ‘voice our ignorance as opposition anyway’ was not accounted for…
      Brawndo, its got what meadows crave.

    13. Dogula says - Posted: November 24, 2015

      “I can’t understand something to be possible; therefore it is not possible’
      ‘I am unaware that something has been done before; therefore it has not been done’”

      Billy/Fish/Duke, that seems to be YOUR problem with the idea of a free market economy. You limit others because of your own lack of imagination.

    14. Robin Smith says - Posted: November 24, 2015

      Kathyrn Reed commented the other day that YOU people should quit calling each other names and to stay out of LTN if you could not be ‘family’ conversation oriented so that the children and grandchildren in the community could read this news paper without being offended and embarrassed.

      STOP IT

    15. Kits Carson says - Posted: November 24, 2015

      Robin: Not disagreeing with you but if children are “offended” they could choose not to read blogs. I would venture to guess they and “grandchildren” don’t even read this paper. These days everyone is “offended” by the least little thing. We have a nation of cry babies.

    16. Isee says - Posted: November 24, 2015

      Remember the photo and article about some ‘Yaahoo!!!’ who drove in the meadow by the River? The F.S. was bent out of shape over what amounted to tire impressions ( Nothing a shovel and one season of time couldn’t take care of- I know ’cause we went and checked it out so we could have a big laugh).
      Now they think a couple of years of heavy equipment scraping sod down and planting logs in banks equals zero damage to the meadow. It’s worth it. Right.
      It’s called ‘talking out of both sides of your mouth’
      Typical gov’t stuff.

    17. Whip says - Posted: November 24, 2015

      An unmanaged river is a wild river and doing exactly what it should be doing. Any past or future flooding has and will change the dynamics of the river over time regardless of damage done by grazing, beavers, or ‘restoration’ attempts. A goal is to change water temperature….really? If it’s too low due to a drought it will be warmish. If it’s pooled due to beaver dams from all the building materials being supplied by planting willows on the banks, it’s also going to be warmish. Mother Nature will take care of herself. Please, for Hope Valley’s sake, leave it alone.
      I often get the feeling that the real goal of many of these projects including ‘forest management’ is long term job security.
      “Protecting” it doesn’t mean you have to ‘manage’ it.

    18. Dub says - Posted: November 24, 2015

      I think it’s funny how bluewire and billy point out things like they are the leading authority on the topic and no one else commenting knows anything. How do you know I’m not a geomorphologist and have talked with practitioners and academics about this topic for many years.? How do you know I haven’t researched this at length to develop my own informed opinions.? You don’t!!! Most geomorphologists designing these projects have this idea that they know much more than anyone else and others need to be educated. Then people like bluewire can’t even use the word estuary in the right context when referring to the truckee marsh. Whether or not hope valley is a candidate for low impact restoration remains to be seen, but from the high impact heavy handed restoration I have seen in Tahoe makes me very skeptical for any success in my lifetime. The sunset restoration is a tragedy and I am entitled to that opinion, so now I must wait a decade or two to see if your heavy handed rosgen approach is successful in the Creation a man made fixed channel in a dynamic alluvial floodplain using willow revetments and grade controls while eliminating the most productive fishery in the Tahoe basin and moving and annihilating the most sensitive long term bivalve species and the keystone of aquatic health for long term stability, the western pearlshell mussel. Good luck with that risky science project that’s toying with sensitive and little understood ecosystems and species. I think it’s to risky and waste of resources when all you really want is to make the river flood at a higher frequency meanwhile the beaver can do it for nothing and natures way.

    19. Kits Carson says - Posted: November 24, 2015

      Dub: It’s too, not to, in the context you are using.

      I agree. The forest circus is justifying their existence. All it’s going to take is an El Nino like 1997 and all their digging and wrecking will be quickly washed away and left as nature intends. Typical federal lunacy once again.

    20. Steven says - Posted: November 24, 2015

      Interesting how grazing is the reason for the damage to Hope Valley and also to the Upper Truckee. Yet, the forest service still allows grazing, basically for free, something like $1/acre, in Hope Valley and back in Willow Creek at the base of Freel Peak. Huge damage every year to the meadows and streams and then somewhere down the line the forest service will finally put an end to the grazing and spend millions of dollars to restore the area. What is wrong with this ? Make the ranchers who graze pay for the restoration, and better still, eliminate grazing all together.