Working in restoration usually means that when work on a project is deemed “complete” it is actually only just beginning. A restoration project is never truly finished, with changes happening naturally and its final form changing each year. Nature gets the final say and changes her mind on a pretty regular basis. In a professional sense though, the project is complete when the earth shaping and structural additions have been completed. The real project completion comes when the plants have returned and in a perfect world you can’t tell a project ever occurred there and it just looks like an attractive piece of ground. This can take years for the project to truly be complete and most of the time these areas are so remote or out of the way I rarely get a chance to return to them when they are truly “finished”. The best I usually get is to find an updated satellite image on google maps. A wet meadow restoration I helped design and implement was “completed” in 2018 and is close enough to home that it isn’t an unreasonable thought to take the dog out for a run a few times a year.
This site is supposed to be a wet meadow and due to overgrazing from cattle and elk it has been degraded to more of a muddy hillside with short grass and the occasional point of erosion. Add the ATV and side-by-side loop around it and you have a pretty beat up spot. This type of OHV meadow degradation is unfortunately all to common in this neck of the woods and with he rise in side-by-sides and quad usage I can only see this trend increasing. However, that is a rant for another day.. The goal of this project was to restore the meadow to the lush grassy hillslope it once was and prevent the erosion from continuing to move soil away. The spring at the upper edge of the meadow was currently ditched and diverted to an abandoned stock drinker and adding that flow back to the meadow would turn it from a meadow to a wet meadow. Here in Arizona half the battle is getting water and if you can add water and remove vehicles/grazing wonderful things can happen!
Watching this high value habitat recover over these past years has been a treat to witness. Not only is it rewarding to see a plan come together and work out, but to watch a high value habitat resource be restored gives me hope for other such sites on the forest. These meadows provide habitat for nearly every critter in the ponderosa pine forests and a healthy wet meadow stores water throughout the year and drains it more slowly into the summer, meaning that animals have access to water for more of the year and the water that leaves the meadow is cleaner. While they may not look impressive, the diverse grass and sedge plant community provides not just a source of food for local animals, but an efficient carbon sink. Pretty much any way you look at it the more healthy headwater meadows there are, the healthier the ecosystem will be all the way down. So next time you see a wet, swampy patch of grass remember that these are much more important than just another spot to do donuts in a quad.