Forest Health & Wildfire MItigation

Wildfire, drought, tree mortality, distressed watersheds: each of these events affect the communities, economy, and environment of the Sierra Nevada. Our forests are in dire straights, overcrowded and undernourished following a century of fire suppression practices implemented with the best of intentions, with no silver bullet in sight.

The forest ecosystems in the Sierra Nevada provide innumerable benefits to the state of California and beyond, including carbon sequestration, sources of clean water, sources of clean, renewable energy, outdoor recreation, health advantages, and so much more. Without meaningful action on proactive forest management, these benefits are at risk of being wiped out entirely. Our region cannot risk the continuation of catastrophic, record-breaking wildfires year after year, a clear illustration of what a 100 years of poor forest management combined with the growing impacts of climate change look like.

Investing in forest management practices such as ecologically-based thinning, prescribed fire, and meadow restoration will help restore our forests to their natural state and ensure these benefits for years to come. Proactive forest management lowers the risk of wildfire—wildfires that threaten communities and lives and send damaging air quality across the state, wildfires that remove our forests’ abilities to pull carbon from the air and degrade our water supplies, wildfires that cost billions to recover from, only for the cycle to start all over again.

Sierra Business Council advocates for increased funding to restore the health of our forests and prevent catastrophic wildfires. We work with local experts, state conservancies, tribal leaders, and forest managers to identify best practices, needs, and opportunities centered around restoring our natural systems and increasing our region’s resilience. An effective restoration strategy needs to utilize all tools in the toolbox: ecologically-based forest thinning, prescribed fire, managed fire, cultural burning, working forest conservation easements, defensible space, home hardening, and emergency response. It is vital that California expands support for and understanding of each of these tools.

Sierra Business Council has a particular focus on increasing awareness of the nuances and benefits of forest biomass utilization. Biomass utilization from ecologically-based thinning can be a sustainable, market-based strategy for increasing forest health, expanding economic opportunities for rural communities, and decreasing carbon emissions. As a result of a century of fire suppression and mismanagement, the density of Sierra forests is at a historic high—upwards of 260 trees per acre as opposed to a more natural 50-60 trees per acre. These materials create the conditions for the destructive, fast-moving fires we see today. Removal of a portion of vegetation, smaller trees and shrubs, or biomass, removes potential fuel sources, reduces the chances of fast-moving fires, and improves forest health by reducing resource competition and increasing snowpack, improving water storage. SBC advocates for biomass utilization policies that follow these principles:

  • Biomass facilities should be sized according to the availability of fuel in the surrounding wood basket. To mitigate trucking and transportation costs, wood baskets typically should not exceed a 50-70 mile radius around the facility.
  • Availability of fuel should be determined by a landscape level ecological restoration plan. The end goal of pulling fuel out of the forest must be to achieve ecological resilience and reincorporate a natural fire regime into the landscape.
  • In order to attract private investment and encourage public private partnerships, supply agreements must be guaranteed across all land ownership partners for a minimum of 20 years.

You can learn more about biomass utilization and expert findings on emissions reduction, environmental justice opportunities, forest health and economic innovation in our report, Biomass in the Sierra Nevada: A Case for Healthy Forests and Rural Economies

Related Work:

Echo Lake Cabins on Sept 1, 2021. Photo by Loren Sperber

Not if But When

It’s one thing to follow the news reports and social media videos of wildfire damage from afar, mentally preparing yourself for what it might be like to try and identify the skeletal remains of a structure as your own family’s cabin or home. Or see the tornados of fire set ablaze against a hillside you’ve traversed hundreds of times by car or by foot. Or watch a community you know and love evacuate by the thousands, their whole lives crammed into one carload.

It’s another thing entirely when it happens for real.

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Fire crews at lake almanor during dixie fire

From Beyond the Line of Fire: Living through largest single fire in California History

As we contemplated go-bag contents and watched the relentless advance of the Beckwourth, River, Tamarack, and especially the Dixie fire over the last few weeks, one of our dearest Small Business Development Center counselors, Clint Koble was smack in the middle of the devastation. Clint lives at and manages a resort in Chester along Lake Almanor. Over the course of several days, Clint holed up at the resort, guarded by the command of fire fighters he so graciously hosted. The firefighters instructed him to park his car on the boat ramp and to take refuge in the car should the flames approach – they would protect him.

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Sun setting over Sierra Nevada foothills

Forest biomass is an underutilized, undervalued tool that can help address our wildfire crisis

SBC’s follow-up to our 2019 white paper report on forest biomass is a three-part video series, ‘Balance & Biomass: A Solution to Emissions, Catastrophic Fire, & Communities in Crisis’, that identifies the opportunities of forest biomass utilization at both the local and statewide levels and begs the question, why isn’t the state doing more to support appropriately scaled forest biomass utilization in the Sierra’s communities?   

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