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Yosemite National Park contains approximately 3,000 meadows that range in elevation from 3,000 feet to 12,000 feet. Each of these plays an integral role in the parks biological diversity, with as many as one third of the park’s plant species located in these meadows. The Wawona Meadow, located in the southern portion of Yosemite National Park, has been severely altered by human activity over the past 60 years. This included the grazing of cattle and horses and an airstrip that was decommissioned in the late 1930’s. The Wawona Ecological Restoration Project, which began in September, is intended to restore the meadow to its natural condition.
The goals of the Wawona Meadow Ecological Restoration Project are to improve meadow hydrology, native plant communities, and wildlife habitat. While the lower portion of the Wawona Meadow was developed into a golf course in 1918, the upper 165 acres were left primarily in their natural state. This provides exceptional habitat that facilitates life for a plethora of plants and animals. In 1936, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed two mile-long ditches through the upper portion of the Wawona Meadow which resulted in the drying of the meadows. This also resulted in drying out the adjacent areas and significantly changing plant communities. Sections of the ditch are now ten feet deep, which lowers the groundwater. Upland and non-native plants dominate these areas, which alter habitat for wildlife and insects.
The Wawona Meadow Ecological Restoration Project includes filling in the deepest sections of the ditch with soil to restore natural meadow topography and plant willows to help slow water flows. This will raise the groundwater elevation to levels needed to support wetland plants. Newly restored areas will be seeded with locally gathered seeds and planted with plugs of sod from nearby vegetation to support propagation of native plants. Monitoring of hydrology, plant communities, and wildlife will help determine the success of the project.
Work on the meadow restoration has been completed for this year and will resume in the spring of 2011.