Wet Meadow Habitat
A wet meadow is a type of wetland with soils that are saturated for part or all of the growing season—the “sponge” of the local ecosystem. As one of the region’s most plant-diverse habitats, wet meadows attract large numbers of birds, small mammals, and insects — including several species of butterflies.
- Wet meadows are home to a high diversity of plants but few fish and amphibians.
- Artificial draining and fire exclusion can impair wet meadow health and species diversity.
- Wet meadows help regulate the amount of water flowing into forest creeks—preventing flooding in the spring and drought in the summer.
Photos: Title image, Wet Meadows of Butte Creek Meadows. Second image by Jon Remucal.
About Wet Meadow Habitat
A wet meadow is a type of wetland with soils that are saturated for part or all of the growing season. Wet meadows may occur because of restricted drainage or the receipt of large amounts of water from rain or melted snow. They may also occur in riparian zones and around the shores of large lakes.
Unlike a marsh or swamp, a wet meadow does not have standing water present except for brief to moderate periods during the growing season. Instead, the ground in a wet meadow fluctuates between brief periods of inundation and longer periods of saturation. Wet meadows often have large numbers of wetland plant species, which frequently survive as buried seeds during dry periods, and then regenerate after flooding. Wet meadows, therefore, do not usually support aquatic life such as fish. They typically have a high diversity of plant species, and may attract large numbers of birds, small mammals, and insects.
Wet meadows’ area has been dramatically reduced. In some areas, they are partially drained and farmed and, as a result, lack biodiversity. In other cases, the construction of dams has interfered with the natural fluctuation of water levels that generates wet meadows.
Why Conserve this Habitat?
Wet meadows are a key player in helping regulate water flow for wildlife and all downstream users dependent on the headwaters of the Klamath-Cascade. Where they flourish or have been restored, wet meadow soils remain soggy most of the year, keeping evergreen trees at bay. During spring snowmelt, meadows hold water in the soil like a sponge. Later in the year as the forest dries, the meadows slowly release that water into creeks, as “the sponge is squeezed.” This cycle slows water flow through the forest; it reduces flooding and keeps water running in streams later into the spring and summer.
However, mountain meadows are among California’s most threatened habitats due to fire exclusion. Encroaching conifers have lowered the water table, drying out these very diverse habitats.
How We Conserve this Habitat
The best bet for healthy, resilient forests is to keep the land in a natural and diverse state—and wet meadows are a critical part of the larger ecosystem. We are working to keep these habitats healthy and connected by supporting solutions that incentivize landowners to allow wet meadows to flood and drain naturally. Wet meadow conservation has the “trickle-down” effect of providing water to forest creeks in the driest months of the year, ensuring that fishing remains robust.