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,”www.sierranevada.ca.gov/whip). 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.