Wet Meadow Restoration:
Keeping it Natural and Linked to Nearby Sagebrush
Sage grouse evolved not just to live off sagebrush, but to move to wet meadows, springs, and streamside riparian areas in mid to late summer. That’s when sage grouse hens and their growing broods head to wet areas to find succulent leafy plants and insects that thrive in wet places.
The best wet meadows, springs and riparian areas for sage grouse are within 300 meters of sagebrush for hiding cover. They feature a diversity of native leafy plants and wildflowers among the grasses and shrubs. That’s the rough model that managers use when they assess whether to recommend enhancing or improving those wet areas.
Techniques for restoration include restoring native hydrology by plugging drain ditches and raising down-cut stream channels, fencing areas to allow recovery from livestock grazing, and changing the timing of grazing to encourage robust plant growth. Where livestock water troughs or pipelines are in place in springs, they can be re-designed to assure there’s free water and wet meadows at the springs.
Juniper removal can also recharge historic springs that had vanished, because the conifers use so much of the water. Taking out the trees also then invites sage grouse to return to the habitat.
When SGI and NRCS staff helps ranchers with whole ranch planning, they tailor every plan to help the rancher as well as the wildlife. One technique for taking pressure off some of the more delicate riparian areas, springs and meadows is to help pay for livestock water developments that open up new areas for grazing and take pressure off the pastures with natural wetlands.