Forest and Watershed Resilience Program

Advancing solutions that improve forest health, community wildfire protection, water quality, carbon storage, wildlife biodiversity, and recreation

Unhealthy Sierra Forests and Wildfires Threaten California

The Sierra has 48% of California’s forests and they are headwaters to 60% of California’s water supply, home to 50% of the state’s biodiversity, hundreds of rural communities, and see over 50 million visitors a year. These forests are the ancestral homelands of many tribes.

The forests of the Sierra Nevada were once in balance – adapted to fire and tended to by the original people of the area. With the California Gold Rush began the forcible removal of tribes and the prevention of their stewardship. The region-wide mass removal of timber, fire suppression, over-grazing, and human development resulted in today’s stressed and overcrowded unhealthy forests, degraded meadows, and mining-impacted watersheds, which leads to catastrophic wildfire, the likes of which had never been seen.

Time to Advance Integrated Forest Restoration

It is imperative that we restore forest and watershed health. The best approaches go beyond single resource management efforts such as fuel load reduction, and which create truly healthy forests that are more resilient to climate change. The Sierra Fund is advancing integrated, multi- benefit forest restoration – including prioritizing process-based restoration and nature-based solutions and incorporating tribal-led management.

When forest managers (private and government) are already on the landscape doing fuel load reduction to better protect communities from wildfire, it can save costs and be more effective overall, to engage in restoring ecological function at the same time. These integrated forest health projects can involve restoring meadow ecosystems, repairing acres impacted by hydraulic mining, and in so doing creating watershed resiliency. The ultimate management goal is a landscape that can experience beneficial fire, a critical element to healthy forest systems that reduce threats to communities from extreme fire and the dangerous air quality from those fires.

Our Approach to Increase Integrated Forest and Watershed Resiliency

The Sierra Fund is focused on:

  • Creating innovative pilot projects that demonstrate the efficiency and effectiveness of integrated fuel load reduction efforts with the restoration of areas impacted by hydraulic mining, and support new community-scaled business models using removed vegetation, and demonstrate the benefits and lessons learned from these pilot projects to replicate successful integrated forest health and watershed resiliency projects at scale.
  • Supporting collaborations and trainings for restoration practitioners throughout the region to help scale up successful approaches.
  • Advocating for local, state, and federal investments and policies to increase the pace and scale of improving forest and watershed health throughout the Sierra.

We don’t have time to lose on this effort, given the magnitude of the extreme wildfire threat that is increasingly being experienced throughout California’s forested regions.

Restoring forest and watershed health is vital to our future. Our innovative forest restoration approach reduces wildfire risk, protects water quality, stores carbon, supports biodiversity, helps protect and revitalize rural communities, and puts opportunities for Tribal stewardship at the forefront.”

Joan Clayburgh
Executive Director, The Sierra Fund