Meadow restoration a priority | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Meadow restoration a priority

Tahoe Daily Tribune Staff Reports

By Gregory Crofton

Tribune staff writer

One of the most scenic meadows in the Lake Tahoe Basin is slated for restoration next summer.

The U.S. Forest Service plans to realign a half-mile portion of Big Meadow Creek that runs through Cookhouse Meadow, a 25-acre area north of the popular Big Meadow trailhead at Luther Pass.

The environmental work is expected to make the meadow more lush, more attractive to wildlife – especially birds – and play a role in improving the quality of water that will eventually end up in Tahoe.

An irrigation channel created for cattle grazing is what caused Big Meadow Creek to slice about 10 feet deeper into the earth than it naturally would.

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When a creek sinks, it causes the water table to drop and makes it less effective in trapping sediments and nutrients that are detrimental to lake clarity, said Jeff Reiner, a Forest Service ecology restoration supervisor.

The stream will be moved about 100 feet to the north. The old stream bed will be filled with plugs of earth to create pools for birds such as the willow flycatcher.

“These (type of) riparian habitats are critical for breeding and foraging neotropical birds, or ‘songbirds,’ because these type of vegetative communities provide valuable food, cover and protection from predators,” said Mollie Hurt, a Forest Service wildlife biologist. “By restoring natural ecosystem processes to Cookhouse Meadow, these riparian habitats are expected to thrive throughout the breeding season instead of drying out early in the summer.”

The restoration work, to cost about $1 million, is expected to begin next summer and be completed by 2005. Design work for the project is ongoing; as is an environmental analysis report, which should be finished by February or March.

The public will have an opportunity to comment on the project once the environmental report is released.

“There are no homeowners in the area and we’re restoring a stream’s ecosystem,” Reiner said. “If we do receive public comment, it’s probably going to be positive.”

Reiner said many people overlook the meadow because they are anxious to get to the Big Meadow trailhead. People who do find it often go in the fall to look at its colorful aspen stands.

For information about the project, contact Craig Oherli, a Forest Service hydrologist, at (530) 543-2681.

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com