On December 14, 2020 in South Lake Tahoe, California, the California Tahoe Conservancy Board awarded a $380,454 grant to the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California for the Máyala Wáta Restoration Project at Meeks Meadow. The Board also awarded a $440,000 grant to El Dorado County to restore floodplain habitat once occupied by an Elks Lodge along the Upper Truckee River near U.S. Highway 50.
“The Washoe Tribe is eager to maintain progress on our plans to restore Meeks Meadow,” said Serrell Smokey, Chairman of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. “This area has been an important place to the Washoe for generations, but we have a lot of work to do to repair decades of damage. We look forward to resuming land management practices that are meaningful to us, including prescribed burning and managing culturally significant plants.”
Meeks Meadow has cultural importance for the Washoe Tribe, but the meadow’s ecological health has declined since European settlers drove the Washoe off their ancestral lands. The meadow served as a historical summer camp for the Washoe people, who hunted game, fished, gathered plant materials, and held ceremonies in the meadow and adjacent Meeks Bay area.
Before European settlement, the meadow system was naturally maintained by the low-intensity fires that frequently burned in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Historically, Washoe Tribe members routinely ignited and controlled such fires to support native plants and game habitat. Cattle grazing, logging, and fire suppression have degraded Meeks Meadow since the displacement of the Washoe. The absence of low-intensity fire allowed lodgepole pines to encroach on the meadow, drying the soils and reducing the availability of culturally significant plants.
At its virtual meeting on December 10, the Conservancy Board awarded the grant to support the Tribe’s plans to restore the meadow in coordination with the USDA Forest Service, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
Elements of the Máyala Wáta Restoration Project include:
- Tribal members will remove encroaching pine trees from 300 acres of meadow;
- Following pine tree removal, Tribal crews and staff will complete prescribed fire training and participate in culturally guided prescribed burning; and
- Following prescribed burning, Tribal elders, youth, and crews will plant culturally significant vegetation, remove invasive species, and protect culturally significant plants. In the process, Tribal elders will transfer traditional ecological knowledge to younger generation Tribal members.
After restoration is complete, Tribal crews will continue to monitor the effectiveness of restoration activities.
The El Dorado County grant supports Phase 3 of the County’s Country Club Heights Erosion Control Project. The County will remove historical fill material, treat storm water runoff before it enters the river, and improve access for people recreating along the river. The project addresses damage to the sensitive floodplain habitat generated by constructing the lodge and its parking lot in the 20th century.
“It’s exciting to see the next phase of this important project move ahead,” said El Dorado Supervisor and Conservancy Board Chair Sue Novasel. “With the Conservancy’s support, the El Dorado County will able to continue efforts to protect water quality for the Upper Truckee River and Lake Tahoe while making it easier for people to access the river and adjacent public lands.”
At the same meeting, the Board also discussed the Conservancy’s longstanding partnership with the Tahoe Resource Conservation District (Tahoe RCD), including the seasonal Tahoe RCD crews that carry out land management, restoration, and forest health projects on Conservancy lands.
Images courtesy of California Tahoe Conservancy.