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Record 129 Million Dead Trees in California

NEWS RELEASE

CONTACT:

Stephanie Gomes,
Tree Mortality Team Lead,
U.S. Forest Service
707-653-3579

Scott McLean
Information Officer
(916) 651-FIRE
(3473)
@CALFIRE_PIO

RELEASE DATE:
December 12, 2017

 

Record 129 Million Dead Trees in California

USDA Forest Service and CAL FIRE Working Together to Address Forest Health

VALLEJO, Calif., December 11, 2017 – The USDA Forest Service today announced that an additional 27 million trees, mostly conifers, died throughout California since November 2016, bringing the total number of trees that have died due to drought and bark beetles to an historic 129 million on 8.9 million acres. The dead
trees continue to pose a hazard to people and critical infrastructure, mostly centered in the central and southern Sierra Nevada region of the state.

“The number of dead and dying trees has continued to rise, along with the risks to communities and firefighters if a wildfire breaks out in these areas,” said Randy Moore, Regional Forester of the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region. “It is apparent from our survey flights this year that California’s trees have not yet recovered from the drought, and remain vulnerable to beetle attacks and increased wildfire threat. The USDA Forest Service will continue to focus on mitigating hazard trees and thinning overly dense forests so they are healthier and better able to survive stressors like this in the future.”

Moore continued, “To increase the pace and scale of this important work, we need to fix how fire suppression is funded. Last year fire management alone consumed 56 percent of the USDA Forest Service’s national budget. As fire suppression costs continue to grow as a percentage of the USDA Forest Service’s budget, funding is shrinking for non-fire programs that protect watersheds and restore forests, making them more resilient to wildfire and drought.”

Though California received record-breaking rains in the winter of 2016-2017, the effects of five consecutive years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and rising temperatures have led to historic levels of tree die-off. The Tree Mortality Task Force (TMTF), with support from the Governor’s office and comprised of more than 80 local, state and federal agencies and private utility companies, continues to remove hazardous dead trees. To date, the TMTF members have collectively felled or removed over 1 million dead trees; this includes over 480,000 dead trees felled or removed by the USDA Forest Service.

The TMTF members are using a triage approach to this tree mortality crisis, first focusing on public safety by removing dead and dying trees in high hazard areas. To further improve forest health, the USDA Forest Service and CAL FIRE have increased their pace and scale of prescribed fire. The USDA Forest Service has treated over 55,000 acres and CAL FIRE has completed over 33,000 acres in fuel treatment projects. By combining tree removal with prescribed fire, crews will be able to decrease overly dense stands of trees, reduce greenhouse gases, and protect communities across the state.

“Tree mortality at this magnitude takes on-going cooperation between public, non-profit and private entities,” said Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE director and California’s state forester. “California’s forests are a critical part of the State’s strategy to address climate change. By working together and using all the resources at our disposal we will be able to make more progress towards our common goal of healthier, more resilient forests that benefit all Californians.”

With record breaking levels of tree die-off, the TMTF has used this event as an opportunity to collaborate on several fronts: from public workshops about reforestation, public outreach in urban and rural areas, and awarding over $21 million in grants aimed to protect watersheds, remove dead trees and restore our forests. The TMTF continues to collaborate on the efficient use of resources to protect public safety and build consensus around long-term management strategies for California’s forest lands.

“The Tree Mortality Task force has provided an essential venue for coordination of response efforts, exchange of ideas, reporting, and accountability for the ongoing statewide response to this incident,” said Supervisor Nathan Magsig of Fresno County. “Leadership from the Governor’s Office, CAL FIRE and Office of
Emergency Services has helped to ensure county issues are heard and addressed. Monthly coordination of the 10 most impacted counties has resulted in a more effective use of resources and has allowed counties to share ideas and successes.”

With a staggering 129 million dead trees in the state, the work of the task force is far from over. The strong foundation built will continue to be an advantage as the TMTF continues to address tree mortality and its impacts.

Learn more about tree mortality and the work to restore our forests in California at the USDA Forest Service’s web page Our Changing Forests. To learn about how to be prepared and protect your home against wildfire and your trees against bark beetle attacks visit CAL FIRE’s web page Ready for Wildfire.

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Read the full press release

Find out more about tree mortality in the Sierra Nevada Region

New online data library now available

Sierra Nevada Watershed Information Network

Use the Sierra Nevada Watershed Information Network (WIN) to engage with stories, maps, and data focused on the Sierra Nevada Region.

The Sierra Nevada Watershed Information Network provides an online environment that connects resources, partners, successes, failures, lessons learned, needs, opportunities, and existing Watershed Improvement Program (WIP) related efforts. The WIN also provides opportunities to explore new ways of integrating the three pillars of the WIP (investment, policy, and infrastructure) in order to restore Sierra Nevada forests to a state of health and resilience.

Access the WIN by visiting the WIN tab in the menu at the top of this website.

New partnership established to protect Tahoe and the Central Sierra

 

NEWS RELEASE

For Immediate Release:

August 23, 2017

 

Media Contacts: 

Brittany Covich, Sierra Nevada Conservancy: (530) 823-4686 or brittany.covich@sierranevada.ca.gov

Chris Mertens, California Tahoe Conservancy: (530) 543-6057 or chris.mertens@tahoe.ca.gov

Paul Wade, U.S. Forest Service: (707) 562-9010 or pwade@fs.fed.us

New partnership established to protect Tahoe and the Central Sierra

(SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif.) – Yesterday at the 21st annual Lake Tahoe Summit, the creation of a new partnership of state, federal, environmental, industry, and research representatives working together to protect Lake Tahoe and the surrounding central Sierra Nevada was announced. The effort, the Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative, is focused on restoring the health and resilience of the area’s forests and watersheds. It builds on the legacy of work that has been done to “Keep Tahoe Blue,” and a variety of activities already underway in the Central Sierra landscape. These include innovative approaches designed to reduce the risks and impacts from large, damaging wildfires and unprecedented tree die-off.

“Here at Lake Tahoe, we are reminded once again of the effects of climate change on our landscape. Restoring the health and resilience of our forests is critical, and efforts such as the Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative are essential in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with wildfire and tree mortality,” said California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird.

Contrary to what many visitors believe, forests in this area are overgrown, unhealthy, and primed for fast-moving wildfires and the rapid spread of insects and disease. Across the state, more than 102 million trees have died from drought, insects, and disease since 2010, and according to the most recent State of the Lake Report, the number of dead trees in the Lake Tahoe Basin has more than doubled from 35,000 to 72,000 in the last year.

“Our window for action is closing. We need a new strategy to accelerate the forest management activities that will protect the Tahoe-Central Sierra area from landscape-changing events like tree mortality or another Angora or King Fire,” said U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region Regional Forester Randy Moore.

The primary goal of Tahoe-Central Sierra Resilient Forest Initiative (TCSI) is to improve the health and resiliency of the forest ecosystems and communities in the TCSI landscape, ensuring that the wide variety of benefits that the region provides continue in to the future. The TCSI is focused on the landscape of the Lake Tahoe Basin and the American, Bear, Truckee, and Yuba watersheds, which are crucial for downstream communities, agricultural interests, recreationalists, and the environment.

“The Tahoe-Sierra landscape is a water source for California and northern Nevada communities. The forested watersheds here contain large amounts of carbon, produce wood products and clean energy, are a hotspot of biodiversity, and are a recreational playground for millions of visitors year round,” says Jim Branham, Executive Officer for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy.

The effort is already producing results, as last week CAL FIRE announced the award of a $5 million grant to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy to implement high-priority forest health projects within the TCSI area. Work will occur on three priority landscape management units within the Tahoe-Central Sierra area: The South Fork of the American River Watershed (SOFAR), the Lake Tahoe West Restoration Partnership (Lake Tahoe West), and the Tahoe Headwaters Treasured Landscape. These three landscapes stretch across federal, state, local, and private lands that are state and local priorities for collaborative action due to the complex issues facing them, and the values that are at risk.

“This region is home to several large-scale collaborative efforts to improve the health and resiliency of our forests and watersheds,” said Patrick Wright, Executive Director of the California Tahoe Conservancy. “This initiative will connect these efforts to achieve new breakthroughs in how we manage these landscapes, from expanding the use of fire, increasing carbon storage, and streamlining permitting, to establishing new markets for wood products and bioenergy.”

The TCSI is led by the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and the California Tahoe Conservancy, in partnership with the United States Forest Service Region 5, USFS Pacific Southwest Research Station, The Nature Conservancy, National Forest Foundation, University of California, Natural Reserve System-Sagehen Creek Field Station, and the California Forestry Association, with additional partners becoming engaged as the effort gains momentum.

*Additional information about the TCSI can be found at www.restorethesierra.org/tahoesierra.

*A short video about the TCSI is available at https://spark.adobe.com/video/owEW1iS0nq3zr.

*View the live stream video interview with U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region Regional Forester, Randy Moore: https://www.facebook.com/SierraNevadaConservancy/videos/vb.134843159909498/1495767387150395/?type=3&theater

*View the live stream video interview with U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station Director, Alex Friend: https://www.facebook.com/SierraNevadaConservancy/videos/1495794613814339/?hc_ref=ART8RijUpqWs8lyM1i6ZGu9sR6QaEcfrk3DhtzyF0kA-oU5GxQ3XqO3LIDlKJ5uEsm8

*View the video interview with California Natural Resources Agency Secretary, John Laird: https://www.facebook.com/SierraNevadaConservancy/videos/vb.134843159909498/1495920537135080/?type=3&theater

*View the video interview with CAL FIRE Chief, Ken Pimlott: https://www.facebook.com/SierraNevadaConservancy/videos/vb.134843159909498/1495928490467618/?type=3&theater

*All full-length interviews can be found in this YouTube playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLPsDtmH1K5_wZkbtTrNGsqSHo8iMCZmvc

*View the digital page about the TCSI: https://spark.adobe.com/page/lKuFG3mA6O2OM/

*View the Memorandum of Understanding for the TCSI: http://www.sierranevada.ca.gov/our-work/sierra-nevada-wip/TCSIMOU_17MU11052000094Final10August2017.pdf

*View the fact sheet about the TCSI: http://www.sierranevada.ca.gov/our-work/sierra-nevada-wip/copy_of_TahoeSummit2017_MapOnePager.pdf

Changing climate could have devastating impact on forest carbon storage

New research to help guide policy decisions

 

New research from a multi-university team of biologists shows what could be a startling drop in the amount of carbon stored in the Sierra Nevada mountains due to projected climate change and wildfire events.

The study, Potential decline in carbon carrying capacity under projected climate-wildfire interactions in the Sierra Nevada, published this week in Scientific Reports, shows another facet of the impact current man-made carbon emissions will have on our world if big changes aren’t made.

“What we’ve been trying to do is really understand how changing climate, increases in temperatures and decreases in precipitation, will alter carbon uptake in forests,” said University of New Mexico Assistant Professor Matthew Hurteau, a co-author on the paper.

“The other aspect of this work is looking at disturbance events like large scale wildfires. Those events volatilize a lot of carbon and can kill many trees, leaving fewer trees to continue to take up the carbon.”

Fire scar collecting

Matthew Hurteau collecting data from a fire scar in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

According to Hurteau, who worked on this study with colleagues from Penn State and the University of California-Merced, roughly half of all human-emitted carbon is absorbed by vegetation and the ocean, and is stored through natural processes – something that helps limit our actual carbon impact on the atmosphere. The problem is, as forests begin to change, due to global warming and large scale fires, the amount of forest carbon uptake will decrease, accelerating the amount of man-made carbon making its way into the atmosphere.

“Our simulations in the Sierra Nevada show that the mean amount of carbon loss from the forests under these projections could be as large as 663 teragrams,” said Hurteau. “That’s equal to about 73 percent of the total above ground carbon stock estimated in California vegetation in 2010.”

Hurteau and his colleagues used climate projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and run ecosystem model simulations, where they look at individual tree species in the Sierra Nevada to understand how projected climate and wildfire will influence where those trees will be found in the future and how quickly they’ll grow. Using that data, researchers are then able to determine the expected carbon uptake – which, if things continue moving in the same direction, will see huge declines across the Sierra Nevada mountain range over the next 250 years.

The two factors that influence these findings are changes in climate and the likelihood of large scale forest fires. Because California is experiencing warmer and dryer conditions due to global warming, certain tree species are not able to flourish across particular geographic regions like they once were. Less tree growth, means less carbon uptake in forests.

The study also shows that wildfires will play a big role in the reduction of stored carbon. And while many of these incidents will occur naturally, Hurteau says we are, in part, to blame for their significance.

“We’ve been putting out fires for a hundred years, causing tree density to go way up. In the absence of fire that system has a lot more carbon stored in it,” explained Hurteau. “But, when you have these large fire events the amount of carbon stored in the system drops because it kills many of the trees. Whereas, in a forest that’s been maintained by regular forest fires, which is the natural ecological state, your total carbon at any given point in time can be lower but it stays more consistent.”

Hurteau says researchers have identified strategies for reducing some of the fire risk by actively thinning forests to manage tree density and restoring surface fires. It’s an idea that seems counterproductive until you consider how volatile these ecosystems are due to the risk of large scale fires that end up destroying hundreds of thousands of acres.

“Part of my responsibility as a publically funded researcher is to identify issues that these systems face, draw attention to them and then figure out what the impacts of those issues are,” he said. “Directly from that work, we also want to try and identify solutions to these issues.”

Hurteau says he hopes this work will help policy makers in California gain a better understanding of what needs to be done to maintain these forested ecosystems. He says it’s not only for the benefit of nature but for all of us, since healthy ecosystems lead to cleaner, better regulated water flow to communities across the western United States.

Read the press release here.

2017 UPDATE: State of the Sierra Nevada’s Forests Report

The State of the Sierra Nevada’s Forests Report: From Bad to Worse

In 2014 the Sierra Nevada Conservancy produced the first State of the Sierra Nevada’s Forests Report. However, when the 2014 report was released, tree mortality wasn’t even mentioned. This update to the State of the Sierra Nevada’s Forests report explores the changes the Region has experienced since 2014, and outlines the long-term consequences of those conditions.

Read the report here: http://www.sierranevada.ca.gov/our-work/docs/SOSv2webPrint.pdf

For more information visit: http://www.sierranevada.ca.gov/our-work/state-of-the-sierra

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.


AGENDA

10:00 Welcome
State of the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program and the need for investment in watershed restoration.
Speakers:
• 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
Speakers:
• 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
Speakers:
• 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
Speakers:
• 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
Speakers:
• 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.
www.sierranevada.ca.gov

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.

Public Comment: California’s Draft Forest Carbon Plan

CALIFORNIA’S DRAFT FOREST CARBON PLAN – AN OPPORTUNITY FOR ACTION

The 2008 Climate Change Scoping Plan, which is the framework for implementing Assembly Bill 32, recognized the important role forests play in meeting the state’s greenhouse reduction goals, stating that actions should be taken to “preserve forest sequestration and encourage the use of forest biomass for sustainable energy generation.” The Forest Carbon Plan is being developed to provide additional impetus, detail, and direction as to how forests will play a role in California’s carbon future. The plan provides an array of strategies to promote healthy wildland and urban forests that protect and enhance forest carbon and the broader range of forest ecosystem services for all forests in California. More importantly, this plan supports an opportunity for increased action by the State of California and federal, tribal, local, and non-government partners to restore our forests to a healthy, resilient state.

The passage of Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, marked a watershed moment in California’s history. By requiring in law a sharp reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, California set the stage for its transition to a sustainable, low-carbon future. Sierra Nevada forests play a critical role in achieving the state’s long-term goals, but action is needed to ensure our forests act as carbon sinks, and not carbon sources.

The overall forestry climate goal guiding the Forest Carbon Plan is to firmly establish California’s forests as a more reliable long-term carbon sink, as opposed to a carbon source.

MORE INFORMATION

For more detailed information and to comment on the Forest Carbon Plan, visit: http://www.sierranevada.ca.gov/our-region/healthy-forests/forest-carbon-plan

To learn more about other State of California draft plans currently available for public comment, visit: http://restorethesierra.org/engage/


HEALTHY FORESTS EQUAL STABLE CARBON STORAGE

  • Sierra Nevada forests help regulate our climate by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it as carbon in the soil, branches, and trunks of trees.

 

Healthy Forest Carbon Cycle

 

  • However, many Sierra Nevada forests are overgrown. In these overgrown forests, trees have to compete for resources like water, nutrients, light, and space, which can slow their growth and limit their carbon absorption.

 

Unhealthy Forest Carbon Cycle

 

  • In addition, these overgrown forests are more vulnerable to large, damaging wildfires, insect outbreaks, drought, and disease. Wildfires release stored carbon as plants and trees burn, and trees killed by large, damaging wildfires, insects, drought, and disease can become carbon emission sources as they decay, contributing to the state’s greenhouse gas emissions rather than offsetting them. Most importantly, dead trees stop removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • It will take decades for Sierra forests to regrow and replace the carbon storage that has been lost, and some areas burned by high-severity wildfire may grow back as shrubs rather than forest, storing less than ten percent of the carbon that healthy forests store.

 

CA Headwaters Partnership Final Report

The Sierra Nevada Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service have completed a final report that summarizes the challenges, lessons learned, and best practices of the California Headwaters Partnership. The report also sets forth next steps for the partnership.

In addition, the U.S. Department of the Interior has released a Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative report and debuted a companion web site highlighting the efforts of seven partnerships building the resilience of natural resources in the U.S. These partnerships demonstrate the benefits of using collaborative, landscape-scale conservation approaches to address climate change and other resource management challenges.

What is the California Headwaters Partnership?

The CA Headwaters Partnership has been designated one of seven Resilient Lands and Waters regions in the United States, in accordance with the President’s Priority Agenda for Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources. The U.S. Forest Service and California Natural Resources Agency (via the Sierra Nevada Conservancy) are leading this effort together to:

  • Identify and map priority areas for conservation, restoration, or other investments
  • Build resilience and enhance carbon storage capacity
  • Develop landscape-scale strategies to assist in planning and management activities
  • Knit together existing collaboratives and efforts already underway for large landscape restoration

The process used to identify and quantify forest and watershed restoration will be organized through the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program (WIP), with the goal of making California’s forests and watersheds more resilient to wildfire, climate change, and invasive species.

The Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative will put a national spotlight on existing collaborative efforts and demonstrate that by organizing at a landscape scale, Federal, state, tribal, and local partners are able to improve their ability to plan for the future and address climate impacts across jurisdictional boundaries. By tracking successes and lessons learned from these efforts, this initiative is expected to encourage the development of similar resilience efforts in other areas.

More information can be found here: