In 2011, CSERC continued to monitor meadow condition and the degree of grazing utilization at more than 30 mountain meadows on the Stanislaus National Forest. Where utilization transects and photo points were known, we measured pre-season ungrazed heights and post-season grazed heights (where applicable), plus we took pre- and post-season pictures at photo points, according to Forest Service protocol. As a result of the exceptionally deep, lingering snow pack this year, many of the upper elevation allotments were not grazed this season. As such, our staff put an emphasis on looking at lower elevation meadows and did not visit many of the allotments that we do on a typical year. Utilization was calculated using height-weight curves for Carex integra and Carex nebraskensis published in the Journal of Range Management (McDougald, N. & Platt, R., 1976. A Method of Determining Utilization for Wet Mountain Meadows on the Summit Allotment, Sequoia National Forest, California. Journal of Range Management 29(6)).
During our meadow visits, CSERC’s staff scientists examined the meadows for signs of current-season and long-term damage to biological and hydrological resources. In many of the meadows where we measured both pre- and post-season vegetation heights, the meadows were over-utilized or grazed beyond the minimum stubble heights. Furthermore, trampling, chiseling, and pocking of streambanks, seeps, springs, ponds and other wet areas were common. Stream channel entrenchment was the long-term problem most often observed, and most meadows suffered from some degree of entrenchment and/or headcutting. Where stream entrenchment occurred, it has often resulted overtime in the dewatering of meadows and a subsequent shift in vegetation composition from sedge and rush species to annual grasses, upland forbs and/or sage. Some meadows that were not yet entrenched had head-cuts that without rehabilitation will migrate upstream and result in entrenchment of the entire stream and de-watering of the meadow.
As part of our report on each meadow surveyed, we provide management recommendations that may remediate current meadow damage and will help to protect sensitive biological resources. Under appropriate management, damage to streambanks, fens, springs, seeps, ponds, meadow vegetation, willows and aspens is preventable. These management strategies include fencing at-risk areas, increasing animal distribution control measures, reducing the numbers of livestock, armoring of head-cuts, rehabilitation of entrenched streams, removing invasive species, and prescribing rest periods of one, five, ten, or more years. Some of these management strategies have already been successful in protecting or rehabilitating damaged meadows. One of the key concerns we share with this report is the continued failure of the Forest to provide clear, consistent protection for fens, seeps, springs, and other special aquatic resources. The Region clearly indicates in both the Sierra Framework and the Framework Amendment that fens, springs, and seeps are to receive special protection. While the Stanislaus Forest has taken the positive step to conduct fen inventory surveys at varying degrees of effectiveness on the four districts, as of present there are few fens with fencing protecting them from livestock grazing, pocking, trampling, or sloughing. On the contrary, year after year cows continue to damage fens, seeps, and springs without any responsible Forest official taking firm action.
Protection of special feature aquatic resources cannot wait years into the future until new allotment management plans are approved for each allotment. In order to comply with Regional and Forest goals and standards, it is essential that the Forest identify how known, identified seeps, springs, and fens will be protected in 2012. This year, in 2011, CSERC staff and volunteers assisted the Calaveras, Summit, and Groveland districts with restoration projects at several sensitive meadows, including Sapps, Cable, Stump, Leland Gully, and Scout’s Gully. Rehabilitation work included stream bank restoration, fence construction, fence maintenance, seed collection, seed dispersal, and invasive species removal. Our Center looks forward to working with the Forest Service on more restoration and fencing projects in the future. The following pages provide detailed reports on condition and grazing utilization for several mountain meadows in the Stanislaus National Forest. Meadows are arranged by allotment. This report contains printed photos, as well as an included CD with additional photos of the meadows discussed and the utilization data.