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Innovative Partnership Aims to Restore Sierra Nevada Forest Health

December 13, 2018

The French Meadows Forest Restoration Project, an innovative collaboration approved this week, aligns the expertise of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at UC Merced, the U.S. Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and other agencies and groups to focus on reducing wildfire risk in a critical municipal watershed.

The project covers 30,000 acres of public and private land west of Lake Tahoe and is a public-private partnership that can serve as a model for increasing the pace and scale of ecologically based forest management and fuels reduction throughout the Sierra Nevada.

The Sierra Nevada Research Institute is leading the project’s research on the link between healthy forested watersheds and water supply.

“UC Merced researchers are developing information on the water-related benefits of forest treatments, which together with the reduced wildfire risk from forest thinning, is essential for developing local partnerships for treatment programs across Sierra Nevada forests,” SNRI Director Professor Roger Bales said.

Hotter and drier conditions, decades of fire suppression and past logging practices have combined to make California’s forests more vulnerable to high-severity wildfire. Massive tree die-offs due to years of drought and widespread insect infestations, year-round fire weather conditions, and overgrown young-growth forests, have all combined to create severe fire risks, particularly in the Sierra. The uptick in devastating megafires puts people and nature at risk. They can also damage vast expanses of forest habitat, threaten the lives of people and communities nearby, and threaten the source of water for millions of people.

The project involves clearing underbrush, thinning smaller trees, removing biomass to renewable energy facilities, reforestation, restoring meadows and prescribed fire. The goals are to promote forest resilience to stressors such as wildfire, insect and disease outbreaks and climate change, as well as protect and restore habitat for fish and wildlife and safeguard water supply and resources. Work is expected to begin as soon as the snow melts in late spring 2019.

Other partners in the project: the PlacerCounty Water Agency;Placer County; the American River Conservancy; and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy.