Hello and Happy New Year!
Way back in December of 2017 I was fortunate enough to head out to the northeastern corner of the Plumas National Forest to tour a number of pond and plug projects developed by the Feather River Coordinated Resource Management.
Pond and plug is a means of restoring meadow complexes with deeply incised channels and impacted hydrologic regimes. Channel incision may occur as the result of grazing or human landscape alteration (e.g. road and railroad building). Stream incision can affect not only site hydrology, but vegetation, increasing the abundance of more xeric species in meadow habitat. The pond and plug method aims to restore floodplain activity by intermittently damming the incised channel. With sufficient stream flow, water levels are elevated, facilitating inundation and stream meanders on the landscape. The graphics below, courtesy of the Environmental Systems Dynamics Laboratory at UC Berkeley, depict degraded (left) and functioning (right) meadow systems.
Our tour took us out to Big Flat on Cottonwood Creek, Last Chance Creek, and around the east and northern shores of Antelope Lake. At Big Flat, we witnessed the erosive and vegetative impacts of cattle grazing post-restoration, while at Last Chance we saw stream reaches with lush grasses, willows, and prime avian habitat.
Opinions on the merits of pond and plug restoration vary widely. On the Plumas National Forest, we observed that careful pre-planning, project design, and post-restoration impacts mitigation significantly influence the end result. As the Sierra Institute advances landscape-scale restoration efforts close to home and throughout the state, this is an important lesson to keep in mind.