Watershed Improvement Program builds capacity in eastern Sierra

Jun 28, 2021 | Project Highlights

The east side of the Sierra Nevada is remote and sparsely populated. Like many rural places, it has struggled with a lack of local resources to plan and implement large, complex projects. That is about to change.

In 2019, the SNC invested in the Eastern Sierra Climate & Communities Resilience Project (ESCCRP), a planning grant intended to engage stakeholders, create a partnership, and collaboratively develop a needs assessment, project goals, and proposed actions to restore wildfire resilience to the landscape surrounding Mammoth Lakes. Over the past 1.5 years, the project has done just that with the help of an SNC Watershed Improvement Program (WIP) capacity grant to the Eastern California Water Association (ECWA) made possible by the Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program (RFFCP). ECWA is assisting with project planning and funding by facilitating meetings and participating in developing grant proposals focused on forest and wildfire resilience.

three people standing next to a map
ESCCRP partners present at a June 2021 Rural County Respresentatives of California event in Mammoth Lakes. From left, Stephen Calkins, Inyo National Forest, Janet Hatfield, Plumas Corporation, and Rick Kattelmann, Eastern Counties Water Association.

And it is working. The collaboration has crafted an innovative landscape-scale 55,000-acre project that aims to return these forests to pre-fire suppression densities and structure, a critical step toward ultimately using fire to restore forest health. This effort will make the forested landscapes more resilient to future threats from climate change, including high-severity fire, extended drought, and mass beetle outbreaks. It will also help safeguard the town of Mammoth Lakes from catastrophic fire events.

looking out at expansive view of dense conifer forest with many dead trees
Projects developed by the ESCCRP will improve forest health in an overly dense forest with many dead trees.

Other funders are taking note. Recently, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife awarded the project $3.3 million dollars to conduct the environmental NEPA analyses for the entire 55,000 acre project area, and critical resource survey work in a 10,000-acre priority area.

Fish and Wildlife’s funding will launch the Eastern Sierra Council of Governments, a new Joint Powers Authority (JPA), capable of working across jurisdictions. It will also create a local nonprofit that will partner with the JPA to establish a local interdisciplinary NEPA team. This will meet two long-term capacity deficits in the region.

This team will help complete NEPA for ESCCRP treatment projects, and serve as a regional resource available to support other important projects throughout the region. In short, SNC’s WIP capacity grants are helping to create a durable project pipeline on the east side of the Sierra Nevada.


ECWA is a Sierra Nevada Conservancy Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program (RFFCP) grantee. Through the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program (WIP), SNC allocates RFFCP funding to organizations and agencies in the SNC Region, encouraging them to build new partnerships, test new strategies, and fill capacity gaps. Sharing these strategies will help all Regional stakeholders to be more effective in their forest restoration and fire resilience work.