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:

102 Million Dead Trees in California

News Release

Release No. 0246.16


Office of Communications

(202) 720-4623


New Aerial Survey Identifies More Than 100 Million Dead Trees in California

VALLEJO, Calif., Nov. 18, 2016 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that the U.S. Forest Service has identified an additional 36 million dead trees across California since its last aerial survey in May 2016. This brings the total number of dead trees since 2010 to over 102 million on 7.7 million acres of California’s drought stricken forests. In 2016 alone, 62 million trees have died, representing more than a 100 percent increase in dead trees across the state from 2015. Millions of additional trees are weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years.

With public safety as its most pressing concern, the U.S. Forest Service has committed significant resources to help impacted forests, including reprioritizing $43 million in California in fiscal year 2016 to conduct safety-focused restoration along roads, trails and recreation sites. However, limited resources and a changing climate hamper the Forest Service’s ability to address tree mortality in California. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Forest Service officials are seriously hampered not only by short-term budgets passed by Congress, but also a broken budget for the Forest Service that sees an increasing amount of resources going to firefighting while less is invested in restoration and forest health, said Vilsack.

“These dead and dying trees continue to elevate the risk of wildfire, complicate our efforts to respond safely and effectively to fires when they do occur, and pose a host of threats to life and property across California,” said Vilsack. “USDA has made restoration work and the removal of excess fuels a top priority, but until Congress passes a permanent fix to the fire budget, we can’t break this cycle of diverting funds away from restoration work to fight the immediate threat of the large unpredictable fires caused by the fuel buildups themselves.”

The majority of the 102 million dead trees are located in ten counties in the southern and central Sierra Nevada region. The Forest Service also identified increasing mortality in the northern part of the state, including Siskiyou, Modoc, Plumas and Lassen counties. Five consecutive years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and warmer temperatures are leading to these historic levels of tree die-off. As a result, in October 2015 California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on the unprecedented tree die-off and formed a Tree Mortality Task Force to help mobilize additional resources for the safe removal of dead and dying trees.

This year, California had a record setting wildfire season, with the Blue Cut fire alone scorching over 30,000 acres and triggering the evacuation of 80,000 people. In the southeastern United States wildfires have burned more than 120,000 acres this fall. The southeast region of the Forest Service is operating at the highest preparedness level, PL 5, reflecting the high level of physical resources and funding devoted to the region. Extreme drought conditions persist, and many areas have not seen rain for as many as 95 days.

Longer, hotter fire seasons where extreme fire behavior has become the new norm, as well as increased development in forested areas, is dramatically driving up the cost of fighting fires and squeezing funding for the very efforts that would protect watersheds and restore forests to make them more resilient to fire. Last year fire management alone consumed 56 percent of the Forest Service’s budget and is anticipated to rise to 67 percent in by 2025.

As the situation in the southeast demonstrates, the problem of shrinking budget capacity is felt across the U.S., not only in the western states. The health of our forests and landscapes are at risk across the nation, and the tree mortality crisis could be better addressed if not for the increasing percentage of the Forest Service budget going to fight wildfire. “We must fund wildfire suppression like other natural disasters in the country,” says Vilsack.

Forest Service scientists expect to see continued elevated levels of tree mortality during 2017 in dense forest stands, stands impacted by root diseases or other stress agents and in areas with higher levels of bark beetle activity. Photos and video of the surveys are available on the Forest Service multimedia webpage.

Learn more about tree mortality and the work to restore our forests in California at the Forest Service’s web page Our Changing Forests.


The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands managed by the Forest Service contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone and provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply

Last Date Modified: 11/22/2016

Read the press release here:

$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

Southern Sierra Conservation Cooperative to Reconvene

The Southern Sierra Conservation Cooperative (SSCC) formed in 2009, moved by a recognition that climate-driven changes threatened to alter key ecosystem functions of the Southern Sierra Nevada ecoregion, including the provision of clean air and water, biodiversity, maintenance of soil fertility, flood attenuation, and sustainable provision of amenities and commodities valued by humans.

Partners, including Southern Sierra land management agencies, research organizations, and Non-Governmental Organizations, developed and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the purpose of providing a conceptual framework within which the Members could jointly establish, manage, and meet the mission of the Cooperative, to “work in concert to make the best use of each partner’s resources and efforts to conserve the regional native biodiversity and key ecosystem functions within the Southern Sierra Nevada Ecoregion in the face of accelerated local and global agents of change.” Although the SSCC ceased formal meetings in 2013, and the MOU expired in 2015, the drivers that originally inspired the SSCC continue to hold true.

In the past few years the southern Sierra Nevada Ecoregion has been disproportionately impacted by “agents of change” in the form of insect- and drought-induced tree mortality and wildfire of an unprecedented scale and frequency. Catalyzed by these events, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) reconvened the SSCC in April 2016 to address the implications for land management, both in terms of immediate response and long-term strategies for ecosystem resiliency under a changing climate.  Participants, primarily composed of representatives from the MOU signatory agencies, agreed that there is a need for the SSCC to exist to advance novel thinking and creative management strategies necessary to preserving southern Sierra Nevada ecosystems and associated benefits.

The SNC is currently working to formalize a Phase II of the SSCC via a renewed MOU and intends to coordinate a series of workshops in 2017 to address some of the priority issues confronting southern Sierra Nevada resource managers.  This effort is supported by the U.S. Forest Service Regional Office, Sierra National Forest, Sequoia National Forest, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and many others.

For more information, contact:

Sarah Campe

Sierra Nevada Conservancy

Area Representative – Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Kern Counties

(559) 565-3727 – Office

(530) 217-8166 – Cell

California Law Recognizes Meadows And Forests As Water Infrastructure

Governor Brown signed AB 2480 in September. AB 2480 identifies the importance of maintaining the reliability of California’s water supply by financing the maintenance and repair of watersheds on the same basis as other water collection and treatment infrastructure. In addition, to the extent feasible, the bill ensures that the maintenance and repair activities eligible are limited to certain forest ecosystem management activities.

California Law Recognizes Meadows And Forests As Water Infrastructure




Forest Restoration Model: ACCG Master Stewardship Signing Event

Forest Restoration Model: ACCG Master Stewardship Signing Event

The Sierra Nevada region provides a wealth of benefits to California. These benefits are in jeopardy because the region desperately needs large-scale restoration. The Amador-Calaveras Consensus Group’s Master Stewardship Agreement, which targets the Upper Mokelumne River Watershed, provides a model for restoring the entire Sierra Nevada region.

Summit Video

The Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program Summit: The Forest Carbon Story

This video includes welcome and opening remarks from the Summit on March 3, 2016 and a presentation by Dr. Matthew Hurteau. Sierra Nevada forests play an important role in California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt for climate change. However, the health of Sierra Nevada forests is declining, and this once reliable greenhouse gas solution may be at risk of becoming an emissions challenge. This summit will explore the impacts that treatments to reduce high-severity wildfire risk have on long-term carbon storage in Sierra forests, and will highlight efforts by state and federal agencies to incorporate forest restoration into their greenhouse gas reduction efforts.


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.