Sierra Nevada forests are one of the primary foundations for California’s rich biodiversity. They are the source of most of California’s water, play an important role in regulating our climate, and are a premier recreational destination for people around the world. Large, damaging wildfires threaten this resource and put at risk the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) Region’s many contributions to all of California.
Overgrown forests in much of the Sierra increases California’s risk for catastrophic wildfires that can result in serious statewide consequences, including:
- Threats to life, property and the forests themselves;
- Further economic hardship for rural, forest-dependent communities;
- Loss of wildlife habitat;
- Impacts to water quality through erosion and sedimentation;
- Impacts to reservoir storage capacity though siltation;
- Loss of natural water storage in snowpack through reduced forest canopy;
- Degradation of air quality and resulting health impacts;
- Reduced carbon storage;
- Increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere; and,
- Loss of recreational opportunities.
It is important to understand that not all fire is bad. Ecosystem health depends on periodic fire to clear forests of debris, create productive wildlife habitat, and to return nutrients to the soil. But the current condition of many of our forests makes these beneficial fires less likely and when the larger, more intense fires occur, these positive benefits are not realized. Reducing the risk of these type of fires, including through the use of prescribed fire, can be substantially less expensive than the cost of fire suppression.
The SNC is committed to identifying, supporting, and implementing actions that:
- Reduce the risk of large damaging fires in forests, wildlands, and communities by reducing hazardous fuel levels;
- Result in ecologically healthy forests and watersheds, protect habitat and species, water supply, and water and air quality, and increase the long-term sequestration of carbon;
- Create ecologically and economically sustainable local jobs and economic activity resulting directly and indirectly from sustainable forest management activities, including but not limited to, biomass energy, biofuels, “value added” wood products, dimensional wood products and the activities necessary to produce these products;
- Result in restoration of plant and wildlife habitat and increased resiliency, diversity and species composition; and,
- Identify, support, and implement policies, investment, and technical support to assist in achieving these objectives.
In summary, the Sierra Nevada forests and watersheds are a savings account the State of California relies on for a variety of needs critical to life. We need thoughtful management and continued investment to ensure that this important Region will remain a jewel in the crown of the state’s treasured natural resources, beautiful natural wonders, and important community-sustaining working landscapes.