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:

Call to Action: Why We Need Immediate Government Funding for the 2021 Fire Season

As you know, California witnessed its worst wildfire season on record in 2020. Over 4 million acres burned, costing us more than 10,000 homes and buildings and at least 33 lives (not to mention the long-term negative health impacts of the dense smoke experienced across the state). Wildfire is a natural part of California’s landscape, but today’s wildfires are out of balance due to a century of fire suppression and misguided forest management. As climate change accelerates the risk of extreme wildfire, 2020 could be the start of our new normal. In 2021, we have an opportunity to keep that from happening. If we take action now, we can help protect our communities and restore the health of our forests.

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Dare to Believe: Meaningful Funding for California’s Wildfire Crisis

Fire has always had a place in California. There was a time when the state had a well-defined wildfire season, when homeowners in California’s wildland urban interface could readily insure their homes, when wildfire smoke wouldn’t blanket the entire state at one time. Unfortunately, due to a century of mismanagement of our fire ecosystem and the growing impacts of climate change, that time has passed.

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Wildfire Strategy

Wildfire risk is increasing in size, intensity, frequency, and duration across a broader range of communities and landscapes. Wind-driven fires as a result of Diablo wind patterns (rather than fuel-dominated wildland ground and crown fires) are also increasingly common, leading to structure fires in urban communities that originate in the wildland urban interface (WUI) or wildlands.

Read More »

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