Study: Sierra meadows being overtaken by forest

By Jason Alvarez, UC Merced

Subalpine meadows are among the Sierra Nevada’s most enchantingly picturesque landscapes. These sparsely wooded, grassy expanses are home to plants and animals found nowhere else, and they play an important role in regulating the flow of water from the Sierra snowpack to the rest of the state.

But these ecosystems may soon disappear.

A UC Merced study authored by former doctoral student Kaitlin Lubetkin, Professor Leroy Westerling and Sierra Nevada Research Institute  scientist Lara Kueppers found that these meadows are being increasingly overrun by forest as changing conditions allow the offspring of nearby trees to take hold in meadow environments that previously favored shrubs and grasses over saplings. For the many species that depend on meadows, this change may force them to find new habitats.

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    Comments (1)
    1. S. Taylor says - Posted: July 10, 2017

      The reason the meadows are being lost, is, the removal of the cows who’s job was to eat the meadow grass and small saplings thus, keeping the meadow grasses in tact.

      Prime example, Meiss Meadow is being taken over by lodge pole pine trees and willows because the cows were forced out by TRPA and the League to Save L.T. in the late 1990’s

      This misfortune also applies to most of the F.S. grazing properties after the early 1950’s when one of the largest cattle operations was sold and out of business.

      As for the meadows closes to the Lake and todays population, these areas were grazed and managed by ranchers from the Carson Valley and Folsom Lake area.

      Next time you drive Hwy. 89 over Luther Pass, a good example is the encroachment of the trees in Grass Lake. This expanse of grass land never had the water level it has today. Thanks to the beaver and their handy work. In the old days, (the first half of the last century) the water level was confined to the center of the meadow and the meadow was the last grazing location for the cows before leaving the valley for the winter.

      From an Old Rancher!!
      (someone who knows the history of the area)