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Located in northern California’s Lassen County, is the Mountain Meadows Basin. This relatively secluded basin is known not only for its seemingly unspoiled beauty, but for its abundance of natural resources and biodiversity, as well as its cultural importance to the local population. This land is nestled between the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountain range, existing as a uniquely underdeveloped montanne meadow that contains many diverse ecosystems, offering support to many endangered or threatened species of animals. With an elevation ranging from approximately 5,000 feet to 7,500 feet, the land itself is diverse, ranging from marshes and meadows to riparian and coniferous forests.
The Mountain Meadows Basin is crucial to the environment and the many species of wildlife that live there, as well as the surrounding population. The Basin is a place of abundance in ecological diversity. This region is straddled by two bioregions, the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains, and is also in a transition areal with two other bioregions, the Great Basin to the east and the Modoc Plateau to the north east. There are 49 underdeveloped habitat types described for California in A Guide to Wildlife Habitat Types of California (CDF/CDFG, 1998), and due to the Mountain Meadows diversity, 15 of these habitats can be found in the Basin, and most of the Basins habitats also qualify for Significant Natural Area status under Sections 2720-2721 of the Fish and Game Code.
At approximately 60,000 acres, this basin ranges from an elevation average of approximately 5,000 feet to the highest point of elevation, Dyer Mountain, standing at about 7,500 feet. This basin is home to tree dominated habitats with both mature and second growth trees.There are large expanse of unbroken coniferous forest cover, providing vital avenues of moment and breeding habitat for a variety of forest dependent species. It also contains riparian growth, shrub dominated habitats, wet meadows and marshes, and aquatic habitats. Natural vegetation connects Mountain Meadows to the neighboring Lassen National Forest. There has also been 6 rare plant species recorded in this area, including the marsh buttercup. While many of the stream channels in the Mountain Meadows Basin contained various willows and willow thickets, aspen groves and cottonwoods, certain scrub communities like gooseberry and wild rose likely intermingled with the deciduous tree components, but have become absent from much of the Basin due to a history of consistent overgrazing from ranching. Despite past degradation of some of these habitats through cattle grazing, this area maintains a high biological viability. This is one of the largest remaining examples of montane meadow in California, and many of the historical and native species still remain.
Forming the headwaters of the easternmost tributary of the North Fork of the Feather River, the Mountain Meadows Basin contributes to the Upper Feather Watershed. Made up of the North Fork, Middle Fork, West Branch, and South Fork, the Upper Feather Watershed supplies approximately 3.2 million acre-feet per year to downstream water users for urban, industrial, or agricultural needs. The North Fork drainage area makes up roughly 60% of this watershed. While water quality is typically good, there are a few bodies of water considered impaired. Concerns are typically general, and revolve around water use practices in the Basin, with logging, ranching, and mining affecting sedimentation and accelerated erosion. There is an estimated 1.1 million tons of sediment transported annually out of the North Fork watershed, making watershed restoration and preservation a high priority for many local and state organizations.
With only about 1.16% of this land consisting of urban development, this Basin is one of the largest remaining blocks of land privately owned and underdeveloped lands in California with approximately 58,652 acres of land, and only 680 acres of urban development. (according to the Mountain Meadows Conservancy’s 2009 proposal for the Mountain Meadows Watershed Restoration Action Plan) The Mountain Meadows relative isolation from urban development has allowed for the continuance of environmental diversity, including wildlife.
There are over 100 species of bird here, and a large diversity of nesting and migratory waterfowl species frequently numbering in the thousands, with the basin serving as an important link in the North to South Migration route for many migratory waterfowl. Due to the presence of flooded timber, the basin serves as an important nesting site in northeastern California for wood ducks. Because the basin is interlaced with 4 bioregions, there are plants and animals in this environment not common to other parts of the Cascades or Sierra Nevadas, like the state-threatened Swainson’s hawk. Inside the Basin are two reservoirs (Lake Almanor and Walker Lake, also known as Mountain Meadow Reservoir) that been categorized as an Important Bird Area (IBA), as part of a nation wide effort to identify, preserve, and monitor important bird populations. This is in large part due to to the region being the largest nesting area in northern California for the endangered Willow Flycatcher. In total there are a recorded 7 threatened and endangered species, and 33 bird and mammal species of special concern. Also present are 3 active bald-eagle nests.
Other special status species include the state-threatened Sierra Nevada red fox. In addition to special status species, there are 13 mesocarnivore spesies and a variety of big game species. This Basin is home to black bears, mountain lions, pronghorn antelope, and more recently, a small number of wolves.
Fisheries are abundant, with Trout stream fisheries found in 4 different locations in the basin. There is also a warm lake fishery at Walker Lake containing trout, catfish, and largemouth bass.
The Mountain Meadows Basin provides natural services and cultural value to the local urban population.
(1) The Mountain Meadows provide the local population with annual hunting and fishing, as well as plant based foods, with long time locals still using Green Ephedra (also known as Mormon Tea or Pioneer Tea), wild mint grown close to many homes, and wild edible berries. It also provides timber, with wood stoves being the primary source of winter heat for most people, due to the isolated location of the Basin and town. Along with natural capital, the Mountain Meadows provide an abundance of recreational activities, from primitive camping to hiking, kayaking, or biking. Due to the isolated nature of the townspeople, there is a cultural emphasis on outdoor activities in the basin.
(2)The Mountain Meadows have always been of high spiritual and cultural significance to the Mountain Maidu, with many ancestral burial sites and sacred grounds existing within the Basin.
(3) While there is room for improvement in environmental education, sustainability, and preservation, many local people strive to avoid a larger ecological footprint, and often times fight back against outside development or mismanagement. When one project was proposed to turn part of the Basin (Dyer Mountain) into a resort, there was a large and immediate pushback from the local populous, despite Lassen County voting to allow the proposed resort. The primary concerns revolved around the ecological damage stemming from the massive urban development, as well as the cultural loss the Maidu would experience to ancestral lands. A lawsuit was filed against Lassen Country with a brief released in August, 2010. While there were many organizations opposed to the Dyer resort, the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit were Mountain Meadows Conservancy, Sierra Watch, and (at the time) the largest grassroots environmental organization in the country, Sierra Club.
Mountain Meadows Basin is an ecologically rich and diverse stretch of land, providing vital habitats to a wealth of various species, as well as being one of the largest areas of privately owned land to remain largely undeveloped. It provides the local urban population with natural capital, and stands as a culturally vital part of the urban population, as well as ancestral importance to the Maidu tribe.
The Mountain Meadows Basin is one of the few remaining montane meadows left in California to remain undeveloped, and supports the local urban populus both culturally and through natural capital. It therefore should remain protected from further harmful development or degredation.
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