Partnership Aims to Protect Water Supplies

The article from Sacramento TV station KCRA is about the French Meadows project on the Tahoe National Forest. I think we’ll see many more such collaborative projects aimed at protecting water supplies.

Work is scheduled to begin this week on a first-of-its-kind partnership to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire around essential drinking water supplies stored in the Sierra.

“This is the first time Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds from the state’s carbon tax are being put back into a watershed to reduce emissions from catastrophic wildfire,” said Andrew Fecko of the Placer County Water Agency.

The partnership includes a unique collaboration between public agencies including, the U.S. Forest Service, Placer County Water Agency, the County of Placer, community organizations like The Nature Conservancy and private business, including Coca-Cola and Anheuser Busch.

Researchers from UC Merced are providing information about optimal forest densities for current and future climate conditions.

The Nature Conservancy is also leading research to monitor the impact of forest thinning on future fire behavior.

The decision notice and FONSI states that the project involves “a variety of forest restoration treatments, including mechanical thinning, mastication, hand thinning, reforestation, and use of prescribed fire, will be conducted on a total of approximately 12,183 acres in specific locations. Treatments are designed to reduce potential wildfire intensity and severity, reduce accumulation of surface and ladder fuels, improve forest health and resiliency, and enhance structure and function of forested lands across a broad landscape on National Forest System lands in the French Meadows Project area.”

Yes, commercial harvesting is one element of the plan: 8.4 MMBF of sawlogs and 7,000 bone-dry tons of biomass, and all live conifers 30 inches dbh and larger would be retained.


4 thoughts on “Partnership Aims to Protect Water Supplies”

  1. Here’s an interesting comment and response from the EA. My guess is that the comment was from the California Forestry Association, which represents the timber industry. Regardless of the source, the numbers tell an interesting tale, and many forests in the west are in a similar situation: forest growth far exceeding mortality and harvests. I heard John Bailey, a prof. at Oregon State, liken the situation to a swimming pool: Keep adding water and eventually the pool will over flow.

    Comment: In conclusion, in a Forestwide context, the Tahoe National Forest on its productive forest land available for active management grows 600 million board feet (mmbf) per acre per year. The average annual harvest since 1994 has been 35.2 mmbf. The scheduled sold volume for 2018 is 16.5 mmbf. The ever-increasing density of the Tahoe National Forest can only lead to dramatic adjustments in tree density by the natural disturbance agents (wildfire, insect, and disease) unless the Forest dramatically increases pace of fuels reduction and reduction in tree density.

    Response: The Tahoe National Forest plans to sell approximately 28 million board feet this year and is committed to continuing to increase the pace and scale of ecological restoration, including enhancing forest resilience through treatments (thinning and prescribed fire) and wildfire, consistent with the Pacific Southwest Region’s leadership intent. The Forest has been finding new and innovative ways to accomplish this, including working more closely with partners and industry to identify needs and to secure the necessary resources for planning and implementing vegetation and fuels management projects across the Forest. The French Meadows Project is an example of this, with landowners and other stakeholders working together with the Forest Service to promote ecologically based,landscape-scale management and develop an “all-lands” approach to enhance the health and resiliency of the Middle Fork American River headwaters (EA, pg. 1). The French Meadows Project would contribute to reducing impacts associated with the disturbance agents the commenter describes.
    The Forest anticipates this trend of stakeholder involvement to increase the pace and scale of
    ecological restoration in the coming years.

  2. This is deeply concerning …
    ” …Funds from the state’s carbon tax are being put back into a watershed to reduce emissions from catastrophic wildfire,” said Andrew Fecko of the Placer County Water Agency.

    Given that fuel reduction will unavoidably result in net emissions of GHG AND the very low probability that fuel reduction will interact with wildfire, the net effect of this effort is to make the climate crisis worse, not better.

    The 2018 US Forest Service Northwest Forest Plan Science Synthesis concluded that fuel reduction is unlikely to be an effective climate mitigation strategy.

    Some studies from other regions in the Western United States (i.e., the Southwest and Sierra Nevada) suggest that thinning and fuel reduction can mitigate carbon loss from fire. Fuel reduction may reduce losses of carbon at stand levels compared with the consequences of high-severity wildfire burning in stands with high fuel loads (Finkral and Evans 2008; Hurteau and North 2009; Hurteau et al. 2008, 2011, 2016; North and Hurteau 2011; North et al. 2009, Stephens et al. 2009). However, because the probability of treated areas burning is generally low (Barnett et al. 2016), and most biomass is not consumed by fire, slight differences in losses resulting from combustion in fire compared with losses from fuel reduction are unlikely to make fuel reduction a viable mitigation strategy (Ager et al. 2010, Campbell et al. 2012, Kline et al. 2016, Mitchell et al. 2009, Restaino and Peterson 2013, Spies et al. 2017).

    USDA 2018. Synthesis of Science to Inform Land Management Within the Northwest Forest Plan Area. General Technical Report. PNW-GTR-966 Vol. 1. June 2018.

    Law & Harmon (2011) conducted a literature review and concluded …

    Thinning forests to reduce potential carbon losses due to wildfire is in direct conflict with carbon sequestration goals, and, if implemented, would result in a net emission of CO2 to the atmosphere because the amount of carbon removed to change fire behavior is often far larger than that saved by changing fire behavior, and more area has to be harvested than will ultimately burn over the period of effectiveness of the thinning treatment.

    Law, B. & M.E. Harmon 2011. Forest sector carbon management, measurement and verification, and discussion of policy related to mitigation and adaptation of forests to climate change. Carbon Management 2011 2(1).

    Campbell and Agar (2013) conducted a sensitivity analysis and found robust results indicating that fuel reduction does not increase forest carbon storage.

    … we attempt to remove some of the confusion surrounding this subject by performing a sensitivity analysis wherein long-term, landscape-wide carbon stocks are simulated under a wide range of treatment efficacy, treatment lifespan, fire impacts, forest recovery rates, forest decay rates, and the longevity of wood products. Our results indicate a surprising insensitivity of long-term carbon stocks to both management and biological variables. After 80 years, … a 1600% change in either treatment application rate or efficacy in arresting fire spread resulted in only a 10% change in total system carbon. This insensitivity of long-term carbon stocks is due in part by the infrequency of treatment/wildfire interaction and in part by the controls imposed by maximum forest biomass. None of the fuel treatment simulation scenarios resulted in increased system carbon.

    Campbell, J, Agar, A (2013) Forest wildfire, fuel reduction treatments, and landscape carbon stocks: A sensitivity analysis. Journal of Environmental Management 121 (2013) 124-132

    • The likelihood of wildfires reacting with thinned stands in the central and southern Sierra Nevada would most-certainly happen. Tree rings near Yosemite indicate up to 14 wildfires in the last 100 years.

      Of course, the climate folks never seem to factor in the land-use changes that happen from extreme soils damages. When the organic matter in granitic soils is incinerated, the water-holding capacity of the soils is critically diminished. That means that acre of forest will be unable to sequester as much carbon as there was before the fire burned. So, every year, carbon is not sequestered, adding up to significant levels until soils recover. How long does it take to rebuild soils? Longer than we’d like, for sure.

  3. Those of you from Colorado will remember “Strontia Stout”, the front range reservoir that turned the color of dark beer (twice) due to ash runoff, and the subsequent efforts to partner with water and other utility companies for fuels reduction. California took note – I first heard this concept discussed at a FS conference in Sacramento in 2010. Good to see it coming to fruition. I wish the Tahoe NF success in this project!


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