Lazuli Bunting at Yuba Pass meadow

Lazuli Bunting at Yuba Pass meadow


Important Bird Areas

IBA recognition helps protect places that are vital to the survival of  birds. America’s Birds are in trouble, and this is a chance for  individuals to make a difference. Through stressing action by people at the local level, the IBA program offers ordinary Americans an opportunity to protect  globally-important places and help save the birds that use them from  decline and extinction.  Audubon seeks a grassroots approach to protecting land for birds and  people. The IBA program uses local volunteers to find important bird  habitat. Once identified, these sites’ continued health is assured by  local land managers and landowners. Private lands can be nominated for  inclusion only if the owner is in full agreement. The program imposes no  regulations, restrictions, or costs. IBA designation imposes no  international controls – but joins Americans with citizens worldwide who  care about protecting natural resources, for the good of birds and people. With its dramatic coastlines, lush forests, blooming valleys, and vivid deserts, California’s spectacular natural landscapes host the largest, most diverse concentration of birds in the United States. Scattered across this geography are 149 Important Bird Areas that provide more than 10 million acres of essential habitat for breeding, wintering, and migrating birds. We must protect these sites to ensure the survival of our state’s rich array of birds.

Audubon California has used the best science to identify and map these Important Bird Areas. Part of an international effort, these sites were nominated by local experts and selected according to strict criteria:

  1. Support over 1% of the global or 10% of the state population of one or more sensitive species
  2. Support more than nine sensitive bird species
  3. 10,000 or more observable shorebirds in one day
  4. 5,000 or more observable waterfowl in one dayThis IBA refers to several distinct meadow systems in the northern Sierra Nevada, both north and south of Lake Tahoe:

Sierra Meadows IBA – Northern Site Description

  • Yuba Pass Meadows, Sierra Co. (incl. Lavezola/Empire Ck. located north of Hwy. 49)
  • Loney Meadow, Nevada Co. (north of Emigrant Gap/Hwy. 80)
  • Upper Truckee Meadows, Sierra/Nevada Co. (incl. Perazzo and Kyburz meadows and Sagehen Creek;
  • north of Truckee/Hwy. 80)
  • Martis Ck./Alpine Meadows, Nevada/Placer Co. (southwest of Truckee/Hwy. 80)
  • Kirkwood Meadows, Amador/Alpine Co. (along Hwy. 88 south of Lake Tahoe)
  • Leavitt Meadows, Mono Co. (along Hwy. 108 west of Hwy. 395)

The Yuba Pass Meadows, with their lack of roads and old growth forest, have emerged as major conservation priorities for the Sierra Nevada (TB). All of these sites include USFS land dedicated to timber production and/or recreation, and several have a private component, such as an in-holding by developers (e.g. Kirkwood Meadows). Very little receives formal protection such as Wilderness Area status, and all but Loney Meadow are accessible by paved roads. The Yuba Pass Research Station (Sierra Nevada Field Campus of San Francisco State University) has been conducting research on the avifauna within this IBA for over a decade.

Conservation Issues

The meadows located along major Sierran highways, including Kyburz, Sagehen Creek, Martis Creek, Kirkwood and Leavitt receive the heaviest use, with Martis Creek and Kirkwood emerging as popular outdoor recreation destinations year round (hiking/camping in summer, cross-country skiing in winter). Recent proposals for vacation homes at Kirkwood Meadows could have major consequences for the more sensitive components of the bird community there, and recreation pressures on the other sites are expected to increase with development in the Tahoe Basin and the foothills east of Sacramento (fide T. Beedy). Summer grazing by cattle and logging in and around these meadows (including the removal of dead and dying trees) continue to be major conservation concerns within this IBA.

Ornithological Summary

These meadows have two principal bird communities. First, there are the species that depend directly on the willow thickets for breeding and post-breeding dispersal. These include taxa such as Lincoln’s Sparrow, Wilson’s Warbler and Willow Flycatcher, with a large proportion of the world’s breeding brewsteri race of the flycatcher occurring within this IBA. There are also species that seem to concentrate nesting and foraging at the interface between meadow and forest, such as several species of owls, woodpeckers (especially Pileated) and flycatchers (e.g. Olive-sided). Nearly all of the characteristic Sierran taxa are found in and around these meadows, including Pine Grosbeak and Williamson’s Sapsucker. Kyburz Meadow stands out as supporting 1-2 pairs of Sandhill Crane and irregular nesting by Black Tern (DS).