The Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program (WIP)

Background

A Brief History

For nearly a decade, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) has been actively involved in forest and community health issues, and the constant shifting of the challenges faced by the Sierra Nevada has demanded agility and adaptation.

2010: SNFCI Beginnings

The Sierra Nevada Forest and Community Initiative (SNFCI) was established as a response to a series of meetings SNC convened across the Sierra Nevada Region to determine our constituents’ issues of most concern. The result, SNFCI, was adopted by the SNC Governing Board in 2011 and was endorsed by all 22 Sierra counties as well as numerous other organizations. The goal was to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration by initiating and supporting local and regional collaboratives.

Due to rapid changes to the Sierra Nevada’s climate, landscape, water and air quality, carbon storage, recreation, and communities, much more was required.

2015: WIP Launch

In March 2015, the WIP formally launched under an MOU between Natural Resources Secretary John Laird and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Regional Forester Randy Moore. The MOU designated SNC as the lead state agency for coordination and implementation of the WIP in close partnership with the USFS and other federal, state, and local agencies as well as diverse stakeholders.

The WIP expanded SNFCI’s mission by embedding the concept of forest health within the larger context of watershed health in order to holistically address ecosystem health in the Sierra Nevada on a large scale.

2018: WIP Becomes Law

The WIP was codified in AB 2849, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Mark Stone.

2019: WIP Expansion

When the WIP was launched in 2015, we were focused on increasing the pace and scale of forest and watershed restoration across the Sierra Nevada Region by advocating for additional funding, improved state and federal policies, and additional infrastructure.

Under the SNC’s 2019—2024 Strategic Plan, the WIP is expanding to become SNC’s overarching program. This expansion broadens the focus of the WIP from primarily a forest health program to incorporate five program goals: healthy forests and watersheds, resilient Sierra Nevada communities, vibrant recreation and tourism, strategic lands conserved, and impactful regional identity.

This is a natural expansion, as all these goals are tied to each other and rely on healthy, resilient forests and watersheds as a solid foundation. They have all been woven into the WIP concept from the beginning, but valuable input was provided by our partners through this Strategic Plan update and we now bring additional resources to the table.

By expanding the WIP, we have the opportunity to engage a broader range of partners more deeply and meaningfully in the WIP’s implementation, and fully realize its holistic vision for the Sierra Nevada Region.

Why is the WIP Needed?

The Problem

Sierra Nevada watersheds provide numerous benefits to California, like clean air and water, critical habitat, carbon storage, and world-class recreation opportunities.

However, the Region continues to face growing challenges: forests are overcrowded and unhealthy, wildfires are getting larger and more destructive, many Sierra Nevada meadows and streams are degraded, and Sierra Nevada communities continue to face severe economic challenges.

These conditions are adversely impacting California’s fiscal health and environmental future by:

  • increasing wildfire risk and corresponding carbon emissions
  • decreasing carbon storage capacity
  • degrading California’s water supply, both in quantity and quality
  • harming communities and public health
  • reducing wildlife habitat
  • limiting recreation opportunities

Mounting Challenges

2013: Rim Fire

The Rim Fire scorched over 250,000 acres near Yosemite, becoming one of the largest fires in state history and the largest fire in the recorded history of the Sierra Nevada.

2015: Butte Fire

The Butte Fire destroyed over 70,000 acres in Amador and Calaveras counties to become, at the time, one of the most destructive wildfires in California history.

2015: Tree Mortality Emergency

Governor Jerry Brown declares a State of Emergency due to tree mortality caused by insects, drought, and disease.

2017: 129 million dead trees

129 million trees have died across the state from insects, drought, and disease—85% of which are in the Sierra Nevada Region.

2018: Camp Fire

The eyes of the world turned to California when the Camp Fire destroyed over 150,000 acres in Butte County to become the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history.

We can’t continue business as usual.

Photography: Kari Greer, U.S. Forest Service

Why is the WIP Needed?

The Solution

The magnitude of the challenges resulting from current conditions and a changing climate require a program that can truly increase the pace and scale of needed action at a landscape level across all issues. The WIP’s holistic mission was created with this in mind, and it has become a household name among key legislative, administration, and agency influencers. It was highlighted as a model program in the Legislative Analyst’s Office’s report “Improving California’s Forest and Watershed Management,” the Little Hoover Commission’s Report “Fire on the Mountain: Rethinking Forest Management in the Sierra Nevada,” and California’s Forest Carbon Plan.

The SNC is an expert on Sierra Nevada issues, has strong relationships with many in-region stakeholders, and has a collaborative network of state, federal, and local agencies, as well as other partners established through the WIP. Therefore, the WIP provides the KNOWLEDGE, FRAMEWORK, and COORDINATION necessary to break down barriers and maximize the efforts of multiple partners working together so we can increase the pace and scale of restoration to restore the health and resilience of this vital region.

Coordination Needed

Over 50% of the Sierra Nevada Region is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The remaining land is owned by other federal, state, and local governments as well as private entities. Land ownership is arranged like a mosaic, which limits any single land owner from performing large-scale projects on their own. When this is coupled with the different budgetary and mission-related constraints faced by each entity, large-scale project coordination is even more challenging.

Doing business differently