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 led to the current pattern of frequent catastrophic wildfires, not previously seen in such severity.

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 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 is more effective to engage in restoring ecological function at the same time. These integrated forest health projects can involve activities such as restoring meadow ecosystems and repairing acres impacted by hydraulic mining, and in so doing creating watershed resiliency. The ultimate management goal is a landscape that can experience beneficial fires, a critical element to healthy forest systems that reduces threats to communities from extreme fire and the dangerous air quality from those fires.

Our Approach to Addressing Wildfire and Increasing Forest and Watershed Resiliency

The Sierra Fund is focused on:

  • Creating integrated pilot projects that demonstrate the efficiency and effectiveness of integrated forest health projects combining fuel load reduction, hydraulic mine site restoration, beneficial fire resumption, small wood utilization, carbon capture, and meadow restoration.
  • Supporting collaborations and training 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 increasing throughout California forests.
Integrated forest health better protects communities from wildfire than just thinning forests. This approach maximizes benefits for carbon storage, water quality and wildlife habitat to improve long term climate resiliency."

Carrie Monohan, Ph.D.
Associate Director of Innovation and Science, The Sierra Fund