Author: Brittany Covich

Governor Brown Issues Executive Order

Governor Brown Issues Executive Order to Protect Communities from Wildfire, Climate Impacts

Published: May 10, 2018
Shared from the Governor’s Newsroom 

SACRAMENTO – In the face of the worst wildfires in California’s history, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today issued an executive order to combat dangerous tree mortality, increase the ability of our forests to capture carbon and systematically improve forest management.

“Devastating forest fires are a profound challenge to California,” said Governor Brown. “I intend to mobilize the resources of the state to protect our forests and ensure they absorb carbon to the maximum degree.”

Key elements of the order include:

  • Doubling the land actively managed through vegetation thinning, controlled fires and reforestation from 250,000 acres to 500,000 acres.
  • Launching new training and certification programs to help promote forest health through prescribed burning.
  • Boosting education and outreach to landowners on the most effective ways to reduce vegetation and other forest-fire fuel sources on private lands.
  • Streamlining permitting for landowner-initiated projects that improve forest health and reduce forest-fire fuels on their properties.
  • Supporting the innovative use of forest products by the building industry.
  • Expanding grants, training and other incentives to improve watersheds.

Today’s order will improve the health of the state’s forests and help mitigate the threat and impacts of deadly and destructive wildfires, which hinder the state’s progress towards its climate goals. Forests serve as the state’s largest land-based carbon sink, drawing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in trees and shrubs and in forest soils. But even a single wildfire can immediately cancel all those benefits.

The Governor’s May budget revision – to be released tomorrow – will include $96 million (from various funding sources) to support these actions. This $96 million comes in addition to $160 million proposed in January’s Cap and Trade expenditure plan to support forest improvements and fire protection.

A Forest Management Task Force will be convened in the coming weeks to help implement this order and its accompanying Forest Carbon Plan, which was finalized today following more than a year of development and public outreach.

Today’s executive order follows the commitment the Governor made during this year’s State of the State address to thoroughly review – and improve – how the state manages its forests and reduces the threat of devastating fires.

Eight of the state’s 20 most destructive fires have occurred in the past four years. Last winter’s Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties was the largest in recorded history.

Yesterday, the California Environmental Protection Agency released new findings on the significant and growing impacts of climate change in California, noting that fires, drought, sea level rise and record heat pose an immediate and escalating danger to California’s ecosystems, wildlife, public health and economy.

Since convening a Tree Mortality Task Force in 2015, more than 1.2 million dead or dying trees have already been removed from the state’s forests.

The full text of today’s executive order is available here.

The Sierra Nevada Conservancy released the following statement regarding the Forest Carbon Plan and the Governor’s executive order to combat dangerous tree mortality, increase the ability of our forests to capture carbon and systematically improve forest management:

“Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) staff have been active participants in the Forest Climate Action Team (FCAT) and in the drafting of the Forest Carbon Plan (FCP). We are delighted that the science and policy considerations in the FCP go beyond simply answering the question of ‘what is the status of California’s forest carbon’ to the true heart of the issue: ‘what actions can be taken in the forest sector to assist in meeting California’s carbon goals and protecting California’s future?’”

“We are particularly pleased that the FCP points to the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program, a large‑scale restoration program designed to address ecosystem health in the Sierra Nevada, as an early implementation opportunity. In fact, the SNC and our partners have already been undertaking the kinds of projects identified in the FCP as being necessary to restore the health and resilience of our forested watersheds. For more information about the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program visit”

“Bolstered by this recognition and the Governor’s focus on the issue of forest health as illustrated by his Executive Order and convening of a Forest Management Task Force, we are ready to truly increase the pace and scale of ecological restoration in our region. The failure to do so will have dire consequences to the state’s efforts to combat climate change and the stability of California’s water supply.“

Additional Resources:

Sierra Nevada Forests: Climate Hero or Villain?

Tree Mortality in the Sierra Nevada

Wildfire in the Sierra Nevada

2017 Summit – March 1, 2017 in Sacramento, CA

Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program Annual Summit
Interest on a Past-Due Bill: Funding Watershed Restoration and Forest Health

Date: Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Time: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Location: CalEPA Headquarters Building, Byron Sher Auditorium, 1001 I Street, 2nd Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814

RSVP here

Members of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) Board and staff, and leadership of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Region 5, will be joined for this year’s Summit by representatives of other state, federal, and local agencies, as well as a wide range of stakeholders to learn about innovative approaches to funding watershed restoration in the Sierra Nevada Region.


10:00 Welcome
State of the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program and the need for investment in watershed restoration.
• John Brissenden, Sierra Nevada Conservancy Governing Board Chair
• Jim Branham, Sierra Nevada Conservancy
• Randy Moore, U.S. Forest Service

10:25 State of Sierra Watersheds
• Steve Frisch, Sierra Business Council
• Izzy Martin, The Sierra Fund

10:45 Looking Forward: Investment in Ecosystem Services
How can Sierra interests be more relevant to urban populations and their representatives?
Speaker: Assembly Member Brian Dahle

10:55 Rural/Urban Connection: How Do We Raise All Boats
How do we bridge the rural/urban divide in a way that benefits both interests?
Moderator: Debbie Franco, Governor’s Office of Planning and Research
• Fran Spivy-Weber, State Water Resources Board
• Trina Cunningham, Upper Feather River Tribal Consultant
• Rosemarie Smallcombe, Mariposa County Supervisor

12:00 Break for lunch (lunch will be on your own)

1:00 Call to Order

1:05 Reconvene

1:10 Implementation Insights
What are the keys to success in places where downstream investment has been secured and projects successfully implemented? What are some of the new, innovative investment models?
Moderator: Jay Ziegler, The Nature Conservancy
• Mike Jackson, Attorney at Law
• Marcus Selig, National Forest Foundation
• Nick Wobbrock, Blue Forest Conservation

2:00 Watershed Investment Primer
Introduction to the public goods charge (PGC) discussion, ensuring a common understanding of the concept as well as understanding about how the charge works in the energy sector.
Speaker: Newsha Ajami, Water in the West

2:15 Watershed Investment Discussion: Public Goods Charge
What are the pros and cons of a PGC for water? How do watersheds figure into the discussion?
Moderator: Newsha Ajami, Water in the West
• Dave Bolland, Association of California Water Agencies
• Lester Snow, California Water Foundation

3:45 Wrap Up, Final Questions, and Next Steps
Review findings, next steps, and gaps left by the conversations had today.

4:00 Adjourn

For more information, contact the Sierra Nevada Conservancy at (877) 257-1212.

L.A. Times: What all those dead trees mean for the Sierra Nevada

By Bettina Boxall
January 28, 2017
Reporting from Sequoia National Park, CA

The ponderosa pine had taken root decades before the Revolutionary War, making a stately stand on this western Sierra Nevada slope for some 300 years, Nate Stephenson figures.

Then came the beetle blitzkrieg. Now the tree is a dab in the gray and rusty death stain smeared across the mountain range.

At the base of its massive trunk, a piece of bark has been cut off, revealing an etched swirl of insect trails. Higher up, naked branches reach out, as if from a many-armed scarecrow.

“This was alive until the drought killed it,” Stephenson says mournfully.

The U.S. Forest Service estimates that since 2010, more than 102 million drought-stressed and beetle-ravaged trees have died across 7.7 million acres of California forest. More than half of those died last year alone.

Exacerbated by anti-wildfire policies that produced a crowded forest more vulnerable to drought, the massive dieback is unprecedented in the recorded history of the Sierra.

The beetle epidemic is transforming the 4,500-foot to 6,000-foot elevation band of the central and southern range for decades to come, if not permanently. The sheer scale of mortality means that outside of developed areas, it’s likely that most of the tree corpses will be left to topple over.

It will takes centuries to replace the legions of majestic old pines that have succumbed — if that is even possible in a warmer future that promises to alter the forest in ways ecologists can only guess.

Read more here…

Shared from the Los Angeles Times on January 30, 2017.

$10 million invested

The Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) has invested nearly $10 million since December 2015 into projects that support the goals of the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program. Better forest health is a primary goal identified in a variety of SNC plans and programs, as projects that create or improve forest conditions result in a combination of multiple watershed and ecosystem benefits, including:

  • Improved water quality, reduced erosion, and improved water yield
  • Reduced likelihood of high-intensity fire and the negative consequences of such fires
  • Protecting and enhancing natural resources and habitat
  • Assisting the regional economy through increased restoration efforts
  • Improved air quality, contributing to increased carbon sequestration, stable carbon storage, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions
  • Support for collaborations that create and implement projects to improve forest health

Thirty-two projects have been funded so far through the SNC’s Proposition 1 Grant Program for both on-the-ground implementation and planning projects. Grantees include fire safe councils; national, statewide, and local nonprofits; land trusts; resource conservation districts; irrigation districts; state agencies; local governments; and Joint Powers Authorities.

Proposition 1 is the The Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Bond Act of 2014, passed by California voters in November 2014. A total of $25 million was allocated to the SNC for multi-benefit water quality, water supply, and watershed protection and restoration projects for the watersheds of the state.

For more information on these projects and the SNC’s Proposition 1 Grant Program, visit


Read more about the connection between the Silicon Valley and the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program in this op ed by Sierra Nevada Conservancy Boardmember Bob Kirkwood. This op ed was featured in the San Jose Mercury News on February 23, 2016.

Bob Kirkwood: Sierra Nevada’s health critical to Silicon Valley

By Bob Kirkwood

Special to the Mercury News

POSTED:   02/23/2016 12:13:52 PM PST |

Many of us understand the importance of the Sierra Nevada to Silicon Valley.

It is our primary source of water. When healthy, its forests clean our air, filter our water, provide habitat for hundreds of species and remove carbon from the air and store it — a critical contribution in fighting climate change. Finally, the Sierra provides world renowned recreational and tourism opportunities readily available to all of us.

However, these benefits are under attack.

Millions of trees are dead from beetle infestation resulting from overgrown forests and drought, leaving entire water catchment areas for major California rivers with ghostly reminders of once healthy, resilient trees.

In this decade, the Sierra Nevada has suffered from an unprecedented amount of severe wildfire, also a product of overgrown forests and drought. The Rim Fire of 2013 was the largest ever in the Sierra Nevada. It left nearly 100,000 acres — the size of San Jose — almost devoid of living vegetation. Multiple fires in 2014 and 2015 have had a similar cumulative impact.

These events do more than leave an ugly landscape. They destroy property and take animal and human life. They produce massive amounts of air pollution and greenhouse gases while fouling our water and destroying important habitat. The erosion that occurs with subsequent rainstorms ends up in lakes and reservoirs, reducing critical water storage capacity.

These events may seem far away from the Bay Area, but they will affect us in a variety of ways.

What can be done? Plenty.

Last year, California’s Sierra Nevada Conservancy joined with the U.S. Forest Service in launching the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program (“WIP,” It will increase the pace and scale of watershed restoration to address the dire situation faced by our Sierra forests.

The program is supported by most relevant local, state and federal agencies, land managers and a diverse group of nonprofit and activist groups. It will increase investment and change policies that are slowing restoration. Without the WIP, the water, clean air, and the beautiful landscape that we take for granted will get scorched.

In the Sierra, increasing the pace and scale of restoration means identifying and prioritizing action on key public and private land segments to improve their health.

In meadows that means raising the water table to increase their natural storage capacity for release of water later in the year.

In forests it means planning and sequencing: thinning of smaller trees, preserving and encouraging carbon storage and growth in larger trees, reducing ladder fuels and thus crown fires in large trees, improving habitat, reducing erosion from poor roads, increasing openings for snow to reach the ground while shading the snow pack so it will melt later in the year, and improving visibility through the forest for animals and people. In some watersheds, segments needing critical work are a priority now. We are about to begin watershed-wide assessments, including cooperating private lands, to guide future work and secure funding to carry out healthy short- and long-term management of Sierra Nevada forests.

Silicon Valley’s well-being is directly linked to the Sierra’s well-being. We and our leaders should support efforts at the state, federal and local levels to restore the Sierra Nevada watersheds.

The Watershed Improvement Program can succeed, but it needs legislative support for funding and more action from the agencies that say they support the plan.

Please encourage the leaders and groups you support to become part of this solution.

Bob Kirkwood of Palo Alto is a board member of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and was a longtime member of the Peninsula Open Space Trust board. He wrote this for this newspaper.

CapRadio Interview

Sierra Nevada Conservancy Executive Officer, Jim Branham, and U.S. Forest Service scientist, Don Yasuda, gearing up to talk about the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program on Capitol Public Radio's Insight program.

Sierra Nevada Conservancy Executive Officer, Jim Branham, and U.S. Forest Service scientist, Don Yasuda, gearing up to talk about the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program on Capital Public Radio’s Insight program.

On March 1, 2016, Sierra Nevada Conservancy Executive Officer, Jim Branham, and U.S. Forest Service scientist, Don Yasuda, sat down with the host of Capital Public Radio’s Insight, Beth Ruyak, to talk about the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program.

Below is a summary of the interview from Capital Public Radio. Listen to the entire interview here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016 | Sacramento, CA

As California manages the current drought, scientists and policymakers at the US Forest Service and Sierra Nevada Conservancy are looking ahead.

We spoke with Sierra Nevada Conservancy executive director Jim Branham and USFS scientist Don Yasuda about how the joint Watershed Improvement Program can improve the health of California’s forests and water supply. They’re hosting a summit on March 3 to talk about role, positive or negative, that Sierra Nevada forests can play in California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Branham told Beth Ruyak he’s particularly worried about the Sierra National Forest.

“They’re estimating that half of their trees are dead or dying on their forest landscape, that’s hard to really even fathom because it’s such a significant challenge, and unfortunately we see that tree mortality creeping in a northerly direction,” says Branham. 

Good Neighbor Authority Signed

U.S. Forest Service, California Natural Resources Agency sign master agreement supporting restoration activities

In a move that will increase collaborative forest management in California, the U.S. Forest Service and California Natural Resources Agency recently signed a Good Neighbor Authority (GNA) master agreement. This new agreement will allow state entities within the California Natural Resources Agency to complement the restoration work being done by U.S. Forest Service staff in California over the next 10 years. Supplemental agreements between national forests and California state agencies will tier to the master agreement and specifically identify the work the state can perform on National Forest System (NFS) lands.

Read more on the U.S. Forest Service’s web site: