Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Forestry Sciences


Natural Resources Management


College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences


Chris Surfleet

Advisor Department

Natural Resources Management

Advisor College

College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences


Montane meadows provide essential habitat for a variety of unique species and important ecosystem services in the western United States. Although important, meadows have experienced increased rates of conifer encroachment due to climate change, fire suppression and grazing. To combat meadow degradation from conifer encroachment, land managers have employed various restoration strategies one of which is conifer removal. Multiple studies have investigated the relationship between meadow hydrology and vegetation; however, few have assessed the effect of conifer removal on meadow groundwater. The goal of this study is to determine if the removal of conifers from an encroached meadow has an effect on depth to the groundwater table (WTD) and soil moisture content (SMC), and to investigate the accuracy and potential usefulness of evapotranspiration (ET) calculation methodologies for montane meadows. This goal will be accomplished by the subsequent objectives: 1) perform an analysis of WTD and SMC in an encroached meadow preceding and following conifer removal and upland thinning; 2) calculate and compare daily ET estimates in a previously restored meadow using diurnal groundwater table fluctuation, diurnal groundwater fluctuation modelling, and SMC.

Miranda Cabin Meadow (MC) is located within the Upper American River Watershed, southeast of French Meadows Reservoir, at an elevation of 6,200 feet. MC received conifer removal, upland thinning and road decommissioning in the fall of 2018 as part of the American River Conservancy’s American River Headwaters Restoration Project. This study found the average WTD in MC during the growing season decreased from 4.91 feet prior to restoration, to 3.39 feet after restoration. In addition, the number of days the WTD was within 0.98 feet and 3 feet increased from 12 days and 34 days, to 31 and 49 days. Analysis of SMC in MC was limited due to gaps in data, however this study found that after restoration the average weekly SMC decreased at a slower rate than prior to restoration, possibly indicating decreased hydrologic output from ET. Based upon WTD during the growing season and the limited SMC data it appears that removal of conifers and upland thinning at MM promotes SMC and WTD conditions conducive to meadow vegetation communities.

Marian Meadow (MM), located in Plumas County, CA at an elevation of 4,900 feet, received conifer removal as part of a timber harvest plan carried out by Collins Pine Company in July 2015. The soil moisture sensors used in this study were installed in MM in September 2013 for previous graduate thesis research. Groundwater table data was collected using 10-foot wells installed in July of 2018. Daily ET was calculated during August 2018 using three methodologies, and during September 2018 using two methodologies. Daily ET estimates calculated using diurnal groundwater table fluctuation and the White method averaged 11.8 mm per day in August and 9.1 mm in September. Using diurnal groundwater table fluctuation modelling this study calculated an average daily ET of 4.2 mm in August and 3 mm in September. Daily ET estimates based on SMC were calculated for August 2018 using two methods which produced estimates of 0.9 mm and 1.2 mm per day. All three methods for calculating ET produced some daily estimates that compare well to previous research of Et in Sierra Nevada meadows, however the White method generally overestimated daily Et while SMC methods underestimated ET. Groundwater table fluctuation modelling produced the best estimates of daily ET for both August and September. ET results in this study support previous research on the applicability of the White method; and they also suggest that the applicability of groundwater fluctuation modelling to estimate meadow daily ET in Sierra Nevada montane meadows be investigated further.