Saving the West

 “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

          -John Muir


Decades of fire suppression and clear cutting in the western United States has created forests that have too many small diameter trees that create thickets that choke out biodiversity and act like a matchbox. This puts these 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 returning low burning, ground fires to the ecosystem. This type of fire is beneficial for forest health, cleaning up underbrush and helping seeds to germinate.

The project of Saving the West is designed to promote ecological function by selectively cutting young, small diameter trees and leaving all the big old ones to preserve variable forest structure.

In today’s economy, the mixed pine forests of the Central Sierra Nevada of California have relatively little commercial value, and the current backlog of dead timber from previous fires and massive tree mortality—100 million+ trees and counting—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 for California as a whole and the Tahoe-Truckee Region in particular as it will allow the thinning and restoration process to be self funded while revitalizes 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 we manage our public and private lands.

Taxpayers spend over $1.5 billion annually on fire control to protect 15 million fire-endangered acres in California. With current burn rates approaching 500,000 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, paradoxically increasing total atmospheric carbon load. If we continue business as usual, the Sierra may soon become a net carbon emitter rather than an agent for sequestration and bulwark against future climate change.

California is simultaneously in deep crisis over water; reservoirs and groundwater levels are at historic lows. Forests supply 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. Large wildfires harm water supplies by degrading water quality with increased runoff carrying topsoil, debris, ash, and fire-fighting chemicals. Elevated nutrients feed algae blooms. Sediments reduce reservoir capacity.