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California’s 33 million acres of forestland and an urban forest canopy capture and clean our water supply, provide habitat for countless wildlife, cool our cities, support local economies, and serve as spiritual and cultural centers for indigenous and local communities across the state. Forested lands also are the state’s largest land-based carbon sink, drawing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in wood and in forest soils. Growing evidence, however, suggests forests will become a source of overall net carbon emissions if actions are not taken to enhance their health and resilience and to reduce the threats they face from wildfire, insects, disease, and a changing climate.
Nearly one in four Californians live in a high fire-risk zone. Over the last five years, California has faced the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in the State’s history. In the 2017 and 2018 fire seasons, more than 17,000 wildfires burned over 3 million acres -- nearly 3 percent of California’s land mass. These fires killed 139 people, destroyed tens of thousands of homes and businesses, and devastated millions of acres of precious habitat and critical watersheds.
The crisis in our forests has been compounding for centuries, after active forest management by Native American tribes was eliminated. Gold-rush era clear cutting and a legacy of fire suppression devastated forested ecosystems and removed the natural role of fire from California’s landscape, leaving overly dense forest of thin trees vulnerable to drought, wildfire, and infestation.
Climate change is compounding the already critical health of California’s forests. Nearly 200 million trees, stressed by drought, were killed from bark beetle infestation linked to warmer winters. Hotter summers and strong dry winds are resulting in catastrophic megafires. In addition to the destruction, these megafires are converting hundreds of thousands of acres of conifer forests to shrub land and emitting black carbon, further compounding the climate change crisis. By the end of this century, California’s wildfires are expected to burn 77 percent more acreage – roughly the size of the State of Delaware every year. (California Fourth Climate Change Assessment).
California forests are central to the state’s strategy to mitigate the wildfire crisis and make our communities, watersheds, and habitats resilient to the growing climate threat. Using the Forest Carbon Plan as a guide, California has committed to managing 500,000 acres of California’s forests and wildlands annually through fire, thinning Sustainable timber harvest. The US Forest Service estimates that over 15 million acres of California’s forests require thinning to become healthy and wildfire resilient. Complicating the challenge is a patchwork landscape across jurisdictions of California’s forested landscapes. Over 58% of California’s forests are federally owned, 40 percent is privately held and less than 3% is owned by the State.
Given the patchwork ownership landscape of California’s forest, success requires a coordinated and targeted approach across jurisdictions and communities and an investment in the structural reforms to double the pace and scale of treatment while securing the ecological co-benefits of a healthy resilient forest and protect against environmental degradation.
Forest Health Strategy
A wildfire resilient California requires simultaneous actions on three fronts:
- Community: Californians needs to make homes and communities wildfire resistant. This includes establishing defensible space and hardening homes so embers can’t enter.Science has demonstrated that homes in a wildfire burn from the inside out.Preventing embers from entering a home and keeping direct flames off a home dramatically improve that homes survivability in a wildfire. Learn More about what you can do to protect your home here.
- Wildland Urban Interface:Firefighters work to arrest a fire before it enters a community. Strategic fuel breaks -- wide long strips of thinned vegetation and forest -- enable fire-fighters to stage equipment, establish defensible lines, and create buffers along roads for communities to escape during a fire. Sometimes these are close to a community and sometimes they are miles away to be in a strategic place. CAL FIRE’s community fire plans develop these fuel breaks in conjunction with community stakeholders. On his first day in office, Governor Newsom declared an emergency tasking CAL FIRE to expedite 35 strategic fuel breaks near the most vulnerable communities, totaling 90,000 acres.
- Landscape: High intensity wildfires, like the Rim Fire, devastate California’s forested ecosystems.Catastrophic fires cause forested ecosystems to convert to shrublands and native shrublands to convert to invasive grasses, devastating California’s biodiversity. Catastrophic fires also dramatically damage California’s watersheds, burning deep into the soil, resulting in erosion and run-off rather than retention of water.California has committed $1 billion investment in Forest Health over five years to support to replant after a wildfire and restore forested ecosystems to prevent catastrophic wildfires on our landscape.
To achieve this synchronized effort at the targeted pace and scale, significant structural shifts are needed. These include workforce development, permit coordination, more sophisticated data and analytics, and establishing economic drivers for currently unmarketable wood products. These shifts are outlined below.
AB 1492 TIMBER FUND
California has the world’s highest environmental standards for Timber Harvest. California currently produces 2 billion board feet of lumber annually and consumes 7 billion board-feet, importing less sustainably harvested wood to help address our housing crisis. The Timber Fund, established in 2012 under Assembly Bill 1492, aims to improve efficiencies and environmental oversight to support sustainable timber harvest as a vehicle for green California jobs and wildfire resilience. The Timber Fund receives a consistent revenue stream from a one percent tax on lumber and wood products sold in California for the staffing, permitting, oversight and environmental protection associated with commercial timber harvest in California.
Timber Fund Accomplishments:
- Over the last three years, the Timber Fund has reduced the timeline for the Timber Harvest Permits by half -- from a median of six months to three months per permit (note: most CEQA process take up to two years);
- Innovating on-line timber harvest permits, one of the first CEQA equivalent documents with on-line submission;
- Grants for research and ecological restoration including forest and watershed restoration efforts;
- Completion of multi-year studies on the environmental impacts of timber harvest; and,
- Developing strategies around improved ecological monitoring for timber harvest.
The Natural Resources Agency leads a multi-department oversight effort which includes: Department of Conservation (California Geological Survey), Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Environmental Protection Agency: State Water Resources Control Board and Regional Water Quality Control Board.
STATEWIDE TIMBERLAND ECOSYSTEM MONITORING AND ASSESSMENT
Using science and data to track the health of our forested ecosystems,the Natural Resources Agency is leading a long-term statewide forest ecosystem monitoring and assessment initiative. This effort helps us understand how forest management and harvest practices impact forest health. By integrating interagency data and remote sensing from state and federal resource programs, CNRA is establishing a spatially explicit, consistent approach to track forest ecosystem condition over time at a watershed scale. The work has now been linked directly to the AB 2551 Headwaters Revitalization Initiative, referenced immediately below.
AB 2551 HEADWATERS REVITALIZATION INITIATIVE
AB 2551 (Wood, 2018), directs CNRA and CalEPA to jointly submit to the Legislature a spatially explicit natural resource assessment and plan for forest and watershed management and restoration investments in the major watersheds which supply the Oroville, Shasta, and Trinity Reservoirs (totaling ~7 million acres): the Feather, Pit, McCloud, Upper Sacramento, and Trinity watersheds.
Referred to as the Headwaters Revitalization Initiative and financed through the Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program (RFFC), the products of this effort will help resource managers plan long-term forest management actions for critical source watersheds of the state. This spatially explicit analysis is intended to significantly improve the availability of data and integrated analysis for use by local, tribal, state and federal partners to determine natural resource conditions, risk, and priority locations across large landscapes to inform investment planning. It will be made scalable and updatable to enable similar analysis in forested ecosystems throughout the State, and will directly support development of the AB 1492 monitoring effort, referenced immediately above.
To read more about this work, you may reference a current Request for Proposals here (see Section V, Scope of Work).
One of the first CEQA processes to go digital, CalTREES is an online system for timber harvesting permits, including Timber Harvest Plans, Non-Industrial Timber Management Plans, Working Forest Management Plans, exemptions, and emergencies. CalTREES provides applicants, regulatory agencies, and the public with rapid access to submit, review, and comment on proposed harvest submissions. CalTREES phase 1 is expected to be complete in late 2020.
EFFECTIVENESS MONITORING COMMITTEE
The Effectiveness Monitoring Committee, formed in 2014, was established to provide the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Natural Resource Agency with a science-based committee whose charter is to annually fund research projects to better understand effectiveness of the California Forest Practice Rules and related natural resource regulations in achieving resource objectives.
PLANNING WATERSHED PILOT PROJECTS
The Campbell Creek Pilot Project was a multi-year effort focused on the assembly, sharing, and analysis of existing environmental data to describe current forest conditions and identify restoration opportunities.
Readers can find in depth details about the Timber Fund Program including budget, staffing, program activities, as well as access to annual datasets on timber harvest throughout the state.
Increasing the pace and scale of thinning, forest restoration and fuel reduction is crucial to both California’s wildfire resilience and the long-term health of California’s forests. The California Natural Resources Agency, promotes healthier, more resilient forests that are less vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire and climate change, and better protect California communities and local economies.
Expedite Quality Environmental Oversight: CALIFORNIA VEGETATION TREATMENT PROGRAM ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT
Finding an efficient path for oversight is crucial to increasing the pace and scale of Forest management and ecosystem restoration. The Board of Forestry and Fire Protection partnered with other departments and agencies to develop the California Vegetation Treatment Program (CalVTP). This program reviewed the ecology and science on over 1 million acres of non-federal land in California, conducted extensive public review and is able to reduce the CEQA review timeline from two years to mere months for forest restoration or fuel reduction projects.
COMMUNITY WILDFIRE PREVENTION AND MITIGATION
One of his first acts as Governor, Gavin Newsom issued an Emergency Proclamation and deployed the National Guard to help CAL FIRE complete 35 emergency fuel breaks near 200 of California’s most wildfire-vulnerable communities. To ensure necessary work was undertaken immediately, the proclamation suspended certain requirements and regulations. CAL FIRE completed the projects in a year and is now continuing to increase its pace to build more strategic fuel breaks.
DEFENSIBLE SPACE AND HOME HARDENING
Ensure your home is ember resistant and your landscaping promotes wildfire safety.
Learn more about steps you can take here: READY FOR WILDFIRE
Learn more about the science behind home hardening and defensible space here: Protecting California Communities in the Age of Mega Fires
Protecting and improving the condition of forested watersheds is a key pillar of both long-term forest health and wildfire resilience in California. Ensuring that landscape-scale restoration occurs across jurisdictions will be crucial for ensuring California’s forested ecosystems endure in the face of climate change.
REGIONAL FOREST AND FIRE CAPACITY PROGRAM
The Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program increases regional capacity to prioritize, develop, and implement projects that improve forest health and fire resilience, facilitate greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and increase carbon sequestration in forests throughout California. The program funds ‘watershed coordinators’ to coordinate forest health projects across jurisdictions to achieve contiguous forest resilience in our critical watersheds. Block grants will be utilized by recipients to support regional implementation of landscape-level forest health projects consistent with the California Forest Carbon Plan and Executive Order B-52-18.
SIERRA NEVADA CONSERVANCY WATERSHED IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM
The Sierra Nevada Conservancy's Watershed Improvement Program serves as an example of a coordinated, integrated, collaborative initiative to restore the health of large watersheds. Launched in 2015, the program works to increase the pace and scale of investments in the Sierra Nevada to address critical watershed needs.
CAL FIRE GRANT PROGRAM
The State has committed to a $1 billion investment in forest health projects over five years. Among the grant programs the state offers to support forest management and wildfire preparedness and mitigation work, CAL FIRE offers important funding opportunities for project proponents to initiate forest health and fire prevention projects to meet the pace and scale needed to mitigate and adapt to wildfire prone conditions and climate change in California.
WOODY BIOMASS INNOVATION
The increased pace and scale of forest management results in millions of tons of slash piles or the extraction of small diameter, traditionally non-merchantable timber. The slash piles and small trees are often burned on-site, releasing emissions into the atmosphere that could be detrimental to air quality and climate change. Finding higher uses and marketable destinations for this ‘woody biomass’ will not only mitigate the release of greenhouse gases and create green jobs, but could help offset costs of forest health projects. The Joint Institute for Wood Products Innovation at the Board of Forestry is assessing the new technology from cross-laminated timber that replaces steel and concrete in construction to biofuels that could replace fossil fuels. Innovative wood products have the potential to turn a climate risk into a climate solution.
The states of California, Washington, Oregon, and province of British Columbia have pledged to share information and work jointly to improve forest resilience and better understand how forests are responding to climate change. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) originally signed in 2018, and recently signed with the addition of Oregon in 2019, will build on initial steps taken by California and Washington during the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit in September. With the addition of British Columbia and Oregon, the four jurisdictions will build their collaboration on shared challenges including a changing climate, tree mortality, severe wildfire risk and drought.
Check here to see select events and news CNRA’s Forestry Team is engaged in and learn more about past events and news.
On August 12, 2020, Governor Newsom signed a Joint Agreement for Shared Stewardship of California’s Forests and Rangelands with the US Forest Service. The Agreement outlines a long-term, coordinated, science-based forest management strategy between the State of California and The U.S. Forest Service that will protect and enhance natural ecological habitat and biological diversity, improve watersheds, and help address California’s current wildfire crisis. As the U.S. Forest Service owns the majority of California’s forestland, this joint strategy is central to securing tangible federal commitments and aligning resources to maintain a contiguous, healthy, wildfire-resilient landscape.
Forests in Flux (December 2019)
Co-hosted by the USDA California Climate Hub and UC Davis John Muir Institute of the Environment, with the participation of the California Natural Resources Agency, this event connected forest and climate scientists to policy makers with a focus on California, British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington.
Statewide Forest Science Coordination Meeting (November 2019)
On November 15, 2019 the California Natural Resources Agency and the Strategic Growth Council convened a forest science coordination meeting to support improved understanding of major statewide forest science research underway. The day-long meeting included state and federal scientists as well as research partners, and it focused on four recently funded, major statewide forest science research projects that have commenced work in the past year, to better connect the researchers to one another and with government scientists.
GOVERNOR’S FOREST MANAGEMENT TASK FORCE
CNRA, the Governor’s Office, Cal EPA, and CAL FIRE co-convene the Governor’s Forest Management Task Force which brings together the public, timber industry, NGO’s, and interagency state and federal decision makers, local government, policy experts, scientists, and the interested public to address questions pertaining to the multifaceted issues of forest management, fire, and community protection.
The following select documents provide background and the basis for forest management initiatives CNRA is currently leading with its partners in California.
Jessica Morse, Deputy Secretary of Forest Resources Management
Jessica Morse is the Deputy Secretary for Forest Resources Management at the California Natural Resources Agency. She is working to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration and vegetation treatment to make Californians wildfire resilient. Prior to joining Governor Newsom’s administration, Jessica spent nearly ten years in National Security working for the Defense Department, State Department and the US Agency for International Development. Her assignments included a year and a half in Baghdad, Iraq, as well as tours in India, Myanmar, and US Pacific Command.
Throughout her career she designed and executed innovative strategies across agencies and governments, including a strategy using renewable energy technology transfer as a catalyst for US defense engagement with India.
Jessica is a 5th generation Northern Californian. She and her family still own and manage their original homestead forestland in the Sierra foothills. Jessica is an outdoor enthusiast and can be found backpacking, skiing and fishing throughout the Sierra. She even hiked 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Ms. Morse holds a Masters of Public Affairs from Princeton University and a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Principia College.
In 2018, Morse ran for U.S. Congress in California’s 4th Congressional District.
Contact: Lia.Duncan@resources.ca.gov for inquiries to Jessica Morse.
Loretta Moreno, Senior Environmental Scientist
Loretta’s work focuses on natural resource management and planning, principally within the forest sector. As a Senior Environmental Scientist for the California Natural Resources Agency, Loretta works for the Deputy Secretary of Forest Resources Management and is focused on developing a statewide, spatially explicit forest ecosystem monitoring and assessment initiative under AB 1492 as an accountability measure for the multiple State programs that regulate timber management. She actively supports forest management planning, permitting, and enforcement efforts with interagency leadership, and reviews grant disbursement for major forest management and restoration initiatives. Further, she is co-chair of the Board of Forestry's Effectiveness Monitoring Committee and co-chaired the Regulations Working Group of the Governor's Forest Management Task Force.
Loretta has worked internationally residing in Austria, Germany and Argentina as a researcher and Fulbright Scholar focused on forest conservation, ecosystem services and multi-stakeholder forest policy and planning efforts including in Argentina, Paraguay, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Indonesia. As a land use planner for the Counties of Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Santa Cruz in California, she analyzed rural development proposals across ranch and farmland in the wildland interface, and was successful in obtaining Board adoption of a legislative package she authored to regulate the cannabis industry. Loretta holds a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Barbara and a Master's of Science degree in Resource Conservation from the University of Montana.