Bear Creek Meadow Restoration

Northeast Region

Bear Creek Meadow Restoration

  • Watershed: Bear Creek, tributary to Fall River, Shasta County
  • Project Sponsor: 1000 Springs Ranch, DFG, Fall River RCD
  • Time Frame: 1995–1999
  • Funding: ~$800,000 (35% grant funds, 65% landowner)
  • Project Objectives:
    • Reduce channel erosion and sediment discharge to Fall River
    • Restore floodplain function
    • Improve meadow hydrology and vegetation
    • Improve aquatic habitat and fish populations in Bear Creek

Bear Creek Meadow lies at the base of the 84–square mile Bear Creek Watershed, immediately upstream of the confluence with spring-fed Fall River. As a result of past channel manipulation, together with season-long intensive grazing, Bear Creek’s once numerous shallow, vegetated, and meandering channels progressively degraded into what can be described as two unstable, erosive gullies. This channel incision led to the near complete loss of instream spawning habitat, lowering of the groundwater table in the meadow, loss of the riparian and meadow plant community, and accelerated bank erosion/sediment discharge that severely affected Fall River.

Driven by the desire to improve the degraded creek and meadow, and reduce impacts on Fall River, the landowner (1000 Springs Ranch) undertook a program to restore the historical geomorphic, hydrologic, and ecological processes in Bear Creek meadow. The founder of modern fluvial geomorphology, Luna Leopold, and highly experienced stream restorationist, Dave Rosgen, were recruited to participate in a multiyear pre-project data collection effort. Following an agreed-upon design and permit acquisition, project construction began in the summer of 1999 using a methodology known as pond and plug. Discrete sections of the gullied channel were plugged with soil while a new channel was constructed nearby. The fill material needed to create the plugs was derived from adjacent floodplain deposits, creating a series of large ponds in the meadow. More than 100,000 native herbaceous plants (mostly sedge and rush species) and 4,500 native trees and shrubs were planted. Upon completion of the project that fall, 2.2 miles of restored stream and 42 acres of new ponds existed in Bear Creek Meadow.

In the ensuing 6 years, ecological conditions in the meadow were monitored by the ranch manager, agency personnel, and UC Davis scientists. These studies documented the following project response:

  • significant reduction in sediment discharge to Fall River
  • increased effectiveness of sediment trapping in the meadow floodplain
  • increased frequency and duration of seasonal meadow flooding
  • dramatic recovery of herbaceous plants in the meadow and woody vegetation along the restored channel
  • improved fish rearing habitat
  • increased use of the meadow by waterfowl, other birds, and amphibians