Regenerating the west is a complex process
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
Spoken again and again for understanding to spread
Decades of fire suppression and clear cutting in the western United States have produced forests overgrown with small diameter trees creating thickets that choke out biodiversity and act like a tinderboxes. This inflammatory mix results in forests in constant danger of mega fires, destroying property, wildlife and water supplies, and potentially devastating whole human and non-human communities.
We urgently need to restructure forested areas throughout the west by selectively removing the excess small diameter trees and brush and returning low burning, ground fires to the ecosystem. Fire is essential for forest health, cleaning up underbrush and helping seeds to germinate.
The restorative processes are deceptively simple
The Living Forests project is designed to promote ecological function by selectively cutting young, small diameter trees, restoring ground cover and leaving all the big old ones to preserve variable forest structure.
Massive tree death is becoming a frightening norm
The current backlog of dead timber from previous fires and massive tree mortality—100 million+ trees and counting—this has filled the major mills to capacity for the foreseeable future and left no market for live timber. Finding uses for Sierra timber is critical for the long-term well-being of California as a whole and the Tahoe-Truckee Region in particular. It will allow the thinning and restoration process to be self funded while revitalizing rural economies.
The amount of timber potentially available for extraction is staggering. Literally billions of board feet of timber will burn without control unless we change the way our public and private lands are managed.
The costs of fire control are shocking
Taxpayers spend over $1.5 billion annually on fire control to protect 15 million fire-endangered acres in California. With current burn rates surpassing 1,000,000 acres per year and growing, we will lose the entire forest within a few decades if we don’t change course. These fires also release vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, increasing total atmospheric carbon load under the business as usual regime. The Sierra may soon become a net carbon emitter rather than an agent for sequestration and bulwark against future climate change.
California water problems profound, characterized by flood and drought
California is intermittently in deep crisis around water; 2 years ago 5 years of drought brought reservoirs and groundwater levels to historic lows. This year intense rainfall led to damaging, top soil eroding, floods and filled reservoirs but still left ground water levels at near historic lows. Forests supply and regulate 2/3rds of California's water, yet the focus during the drought is on the demand side, e.g., water conservation. We pay too little attention to protecting the supply of water at its source and the designed response to this new flood drought cycle is clearly insufficient. Large wildfires harm water supplies by degrading water quality with increased runoff carrying topsoil, debris, ash, and fire-fighting chemicals. Sediments reduce reservoir capacity. Global warming, as science has predicted,has made the extremes of flood and drought a new norm. Unprepared, we have just experienced this phenomena.