The Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative (TCSI), the first pilot project under the Watershed Improvement Program (WIP), aims to restore the resilience of 2.4 million acres of Sierra Nevada forests and watersheds. It focuses on developing and demonstrating innovative planning, investment, and management tools across all lands. The TCSI is led by state, federal, nonprofit, and private partners, and responds to state and federal mandates that call for increasing pace and scale of forest management and restoration and better protection of communities from wildfire.
TCSI’s investments are addressing the key barriers to scaling up forest management by increasing capacity and developing more flexible funding and new markets for biomass and wood products. Lessons learned here can be applied across the entire Sierra Nevada and beyond to accelerate the restoration of this spectacular and vital region.
To date, TCSI partners have secured over $32 million in California Climate Investments (CCI) grant funds to implement high-priority forest health projects that sequester carbon and reduce the risk of wildfires. Projects funded by CCI are currently thinning fuels, removing green tons of biomass, and implementing prescribed fire across private and public ownerships and jurisdictions at the federal, state and local levels.
The watersheds of the Tahoe-Central Sierra area are crucial for downstream communities, agricultural interests, recreationalists, and the environment. This landscape of the Lake Tahoe Basin and the American, Bear, Truckee, and Yuba watersheds also provides water critical to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, as well as to northern Nevada communities. The forested watersheds here contain large amounts of carbon, produce substantial amounts of wood products and clean energy, provide significant fish and wildlife habitat, and are a recreational playground for millions of visitors year round. Billions of dollars of goods are transported through this area each year, a critically important part of California’s economy.
At the same time, high-severity wildfire and drought threaten the resilience of forests and communities in the Sierra Nevada. The area burned by catastrophic wildfires annually is increasing, and prolonged droughts coupled with beetle outbreaks have the potential to result in massive tree mortality, leaving extremely large areas of dead trees. These factors, along with fire suppression and unsustainable management practices have contributed to the unhealthy forest conditions that exist today.
Goals and Strategies
TCSI is working to engage stakeholders across all lands to pursue a unified, collaborative set of goals and strategies for forest restoration in a Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative 10-Year Regional Plan.
Goal 1: Restore and maintain social and ecological resilience across 2.4 million acres.
- Strategy 1: Accelerate forest restoration treatments and protect areas in desired conditions.
- Strategy 2: Build a portfolio of present and future projects to identify shovel-ready work and foster collaboration across jurisdictions and entities.
- Strategy 3: Continue developing science-based methodology that informs project management.
Goal 2: Build capacity to restore resilience.
- Strategy 4: Strengthen equitable partnerships and stakeholder engagement through outreach and regional capacity-building.
- Strategy 5: Secure sustainable funding for stakeholders and long-term project portfolio needs.
- Strategy 6: Expand the restoration workforce and markets for biomass and small-diameter wood to support rural economies and reduce treatment costs.
TCSI partners are committed to science-based land management decision-making, and improving this methodology as necessary. The TSCI has developed products to support a shared restoration strategy among all stakeholders:
- Framework for Resilience: defines socioecological resilience based on ten communal pillars and describes their individual elements and metrics that can be measured to assess resilience and to monitor change over time.
- Assessment of Current Landscape Conditions: provides insights into key aspects of current forest and landscape conditions, including fire and beetle/drought risk and biomass-processing capacity, and establishes the urgency for restoration based on a scientific foundation.
- Blueprint for Resilience: evaluates unique metrics for desired resilience outcomes across select pillars used in the previous two resources. This supports a Mapping Tool which can be used as a guide for land managers and other stakeholders in the TCSI region to prioritize targeted forest restoration strategies.
TCSI Project Highlights
Caples Ecological Restoration Project
Healthy forests and watersheds depend on a healthy fire regime; reintroducing fire as a management tool will be key for increasing the pace and scale of restoration. The Caples Creek Watershed Ecological Restoration Project will complete forest restoration work on 6,800 acres of the Eldorado National Forest, and 4,400 acres of the project area will be treated using prescribed fire. This project is being completed as a partnership between the El Dorado Irrigation District, the Eldorado National Forest, and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy.
French Meadows Project
The French Meadows Project is overcoming U.S. Forest Service staffing and funding constraints through an innovative partnership-led approach. Project partners include Placer County, Placer County Water Agency, The Nature Conservancy, American River Conservancy, and academic researchers. The partnership has worked together to plan, fund, and are now implementing the forest restoration project, accomplishing a faster pace and scale than the U.S. Forest Service could do on their own. In addition, project partners are testing the hypothesis that ecologically based forest thinning increases forest resilience and water yield, with the goal of quantifying water supply benefits.
Lake Tahoe West Restoration Project
Several critical elements make the Lake Tahoe West Restoration Partnership distinctive: a collaboratively developed and implemented large landscape-scale approach; a 10-year strategy to restore the forests, watersheds, recreational opportunities, and communities on Lake Tahoe’s western shore; a science team to inform the effort and model the tradeoffs of management actions; and the alignment and acceleration of planning permitting and implementation schedules.
Landscape-Scale Carbon Accounting
The U.S. Forest Service’s Remote Sensing Lab has incorporated ground level LiDAR surveys to measure changes in forest biomass over time, and before and after thinning treatments, in areas where the French Meadows Restoration Project is working. This research, funded by a California Climate Investment grant, is expected to provide highly accurate site-specific information about carbon fluxes on the landscape, and improve our ability to accurately measure biomass and carbon using more widely available aerial LiDAR measurements.
North Yuba Forest Resilience Project
The North Yuba Forest Resilience Project is a large landscape project that aims to restore resilience to the 275,000-acre North Yuba River watershed. It builds on the success of the partnership approach used in the French Meadows Project and includes innovative approaches to planning as the project area is ten times larger than the standard project size. The restoration work will be financed in part by Blue Forest’s novel Forest Resilience Bond, investing private capital in restoration projects that protect forest health and mitigate the risks of wildfires and drought.
Sagehen Experimental Forest Project
Sagehen Experimental Forest integrates scientific research with land management. It brings together a diverse group of partners to create a holistic management plan. It’s the first project to implement the new restoration prescription GTR 220, which is a dynamic methodology that manages for both fire risk and wildlife habitat.
South Fork American River (SOFAR) Cohesive Strategy
The SOFAR Cohesive Strategy is a collaborative of diverse organizations working together to initiate the National Cohesive Wildland Management Strategy on 410,000 acres of the South Fork American River watershed in Eldorado National Forest. Using best science, meaningful restoration progress works toward the three national strategy goals: resilient landscapes, fire-adapted communities, and safe and effective wildfire response.