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The Big Meadows Project

In the Sequoia National Monument between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is a large meadow area descriptively named “Big Meadow.” It is a couple of miles long and has a small stream running through it. This stream exits the meadows, flows through a series of five campgrounds, and eventually becomes a tributary to a tributary of the Kings River.

Overgrazing in the early 20th. Century left Big Meadows creek several feet below the level of the meadow proper, in a v shaped course that kept getting deeper with every seasonal runoff. Situated at the 7,500 foot level, the meadow is normally covered with several feet of winter snow that melts off in spring, making the small stream into a seasonal flood. Before the project, this runoff would leave the meadow with little water to flow during the dry summer months. While the stream supported a small and struggling population of brook trout, there was little else in the way of aquatic life or insect life in the meadow.

The Big Meadows project built a series of earthen dams that backed up the creek into a dozen or more small ponds. This raised the water table to near the surface of the meadow, and stopped the intrusion of small lodgepole pines that were turning the meadow into a brushy area. The meadow now supports a large population of brook trout that feed on abundant insect life in the meadow. Other aquatic life, such as frogs, now populate the meadow, as does a large variety of birds. Moreover, the snow melt now runs off gradually instead of in one large flood, thus improving the watershed all the way down the Kings River drainage.

Final Program Report

In 2003, Fly Fishers for Conservation (Fresno California) received funds from member Ted Martin to accomplish a conservation project. These funds provided the “seed” money to develop the Big Meadows Restoration Project. Local members suggested the project be done at a high Sierra meadow they had fished since the early 1970’s. Members had watched the stream degrade and fish disappear for over 30 years.

Big Meadows is the ideal teaching stream. Jayne Ferrante, First Vice President of FFC, contacted California State University, Fresno, to develop a collaborative effort and ultimately funds were provided to student Jason Olin to focus on Big Meadows problems and solutions as his Masters thesis. Jason’s thesis provided the scientific research to design and implement an intervention to re-water the meadow.