Mokelumne Watershed Avoided Cost Analysis

Why Sierra Fuel Treatments Make Economic Sense

Mokelumne Summary GIFHigh severity wildfires in California’s Sierra Nevada pose a serious threat to people and nature. The 2013 Rim Fire in the Central Sierra Nevada burned nearly 257,000 acres, much of it at high severity, at a cost of more than $127 million, not including the costs to the economy and tourism. Although proactive forest management can reduce the risk of high-severity wildfire, the pace and scale of fuels treatments is insufficient, given the growing scope of the problem.

Wildfires, and the associated costs, are increasing in the western United States, but few studies have taken a hard look at the costs and benefits of fuel treatments. Using the Upper Mokelumne River Watershed as a representative case, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, and a diverse set of other stakeholders sought to answer the following question: Does it make economic sense to increase investment in proactive forest management to reduce the risk of large, damaging wildfires?

Mokelumne Watershed Avoided Cost Analysis

Links to individual chapters of the report are located at the bottom of this page.

The  Mokelumne Watershed (in purple) was the focus of this study, and connects to East Bay water users (in blue) via a water pipeline.

Map showing the Mokelumne Watershed connected to the East Bay by a water pipeline.






Using state-of-the-art models for fire, vegetation and post-fire erosion, we analyzed the potential impacts of a landscape-scale fuel treatments program in the upper Mokelumne watershed. In addition, we examined who would benefit the most from investing in fuel treatments and reducing the risk of high-intensity wildfires. Our findings can help inform forest management not only in the Mokelumne watershed, but also in similar watersheds throughout the Sierra Nevada and the western United States.

These maps from the study indicate the change in wildfire perimeter and intensity when fuel treatments are applied:

Fire perimeter and intensity before fuel treatments are applied to the Mokelumne Watershed.
Fire perimeter and intensity after fuel treatments are applied to the Mokelumne Watershed showing reductions in fire size and intensity.


Contents of the report:


A – Fire Modeling
B – Insects, Diseases, and Abiotic Factors
C – GeoWEPP Modeling – Hillslope Erosion
D – Debris Flow Modeling
E – FERGI – Estimated Postfire Gullly Erosion in the Mokelumne Watershed
F – Bathymetric Survey – Methods for Calculating the Volume of Tiger Creek Afterbay
G – North Fork Mokelumne River Sediment Budget Analysis
H – Bibliography on Wildfire, Fuels Reduction Treatment, and Prescribed Fire Effects on Runoff and Erosion
I – Bibliography on Hydrologic Effects of Meadow Restoration in the Sierra Nevada
J – Preliminary Assumptions

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The Nature Conservancy Logo

David Edelson

Kristen Podolak

US Forest Service Logo

Sherry Hazelhurst