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Forest Futures Salon: Tahoe Central Sierra Initiative

Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation
Published on October 7, 2020

Five of the six largest fires in California’s history began this year, tacking on to the running list of 8,000 incidents we have already experienced this season. For three of the last four years we have seen the largest, hottest and most devastating wildfire season on record. These fires threaten our communities, contribute substantially to carbon emissions and decrease the ability of our forests to store carbon. Unfortunately, things will continue to get worse until we find avenues to swiftly scale forest restoration. The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation is committed to continuing, and expanding, our efforts as this issue becomes more and more urgent and the fires rage larger and closer than ever before. 

The problem is not that the solutions are unknown. For generations these lands were managed sustainably, however, due to a confluence of factors including removal of Native American historical management practices, fire suppression, and economic valuation of timber, today’s forest lands are severely overcrowded and in desperate need of treatment. There are three types of treatment required across various landscapes in the Sierra Nevada: thinning of overcrowded small diameter trees and removal of hazardous biomass, prescribed fire to clear underlying brush, and, at times, both thinning and prescribed burning. Our most recent Forest Futures Salon focused on understanding these treatments, the barriers to achieving them at scale, and a new cutting-edge effort to address a massive 2.4 million acre forest landscape right in our backyard, the Tahoe Central Sierra Initiative (TCSI). 

The TCSI is a partnership of state, federal, environmental, research and industry representatives which aims to accelerate landscape scale forest restoration and improve the health and resilience of the Sierra Nevada. The initiative is focused on finding multi-faceted, market-based, solutions that address multiple restoration benefits across a 2.4 million-acre area in the Sierra Nevada. The area is home to 200,000 people and hosts millions of tourists every year, so not only is TCSI trying to protect a forest, but they are also protecting communities, homes, and a world-class tourist destination. Protection of this land also comes with other benefits such as carbon emission avoidance, water quantity and quality improvement, biodiversity, drought avoidance, wildfire mitigation and greater carbon drawdown capacity. 

Our guest speakers were Patricia Manley of the US Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station, Dan Porter of the Nature Conservancy and Eli Ilano, head of the Tahoe National Forest. The discussion focused on the dynamic statistical models the TCSI has built and the ways in which this science informs our regional understanding of potential market-based approaches to forest restoration and land management.  

Here are some key take-aways from the discussion: 

  • A powerful, dynamic scientific tool to guide effective land management: Pat Manley, lead scientist for the Pacific Southwest Research Station, and her colleagues have developed a ten-pillar dynamic statistical model which evaluates the interplay of a variety of forces including market prices, policy and regulatory shifts, biodiversity, ground water storage capacity and filtration quality, and more. This tool may operate as a valuable decision-making tool, advising scientists and land managers on ecosystem-scale results of various management tools, forest treatments and regulatory changes. 
  • A connection between the science ‘in the forest’ and the potential for wood fiber and biomass markets: Dan Porter, Associate Director of the Nature Conservancy’s Land Program, shared the results of a feedstock analysis which evaluated the potential end-market uses of the high-hazard materials which must be removed from the TCSI landscape — and shared the high level results of an analysis to understand the most technically feasible, environmentally sound and economically viable uses for this feedstock. The Nature Conservancy will be publishing a report detailing these results this fall. 
  • The need to bridge the gap from the cost of removal to the current market-value of wood fiber and biomass: “It’s not complicated, it’s just expensive,” said Eli Ilano, head of the Tahoe National Forest. We discussed the need to place a value on the public benefits of forest restoration beyond the current value of board-feet-of-timber. Today’s forest materials are valued, economically, for their board-feet alone — we must enable forest managers to place an economic value on decrease in catastrophic wildfire risk, increase in carbon storage, improvement of water quantity and quality, increase in air quality, and decrease in devastating carbon emissions. 

The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation would like to extend gratitude to the firefighters working tirelessly throughout the West that are helping us contain these fires.

You are invited to join in on our conversation and learn about our efforts to protect our forests, firefighters and communities. Register for one of our upcoming Forest Futures Salons. Also, please consider donating to our Forest Futures Fund to help us make a $200,000 match for forest solutions. 

About Forest Futures

The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation’s Forest Futures work focuses on a Venture Lab model to fuel innovation, cultivate sustainable economies for our region and create new jobs with the ultimate goal of preventing forest fires. We host several events a year as part of the Forest Futures Salon Series to engage in productive conversations with scientists, investors, policymakers, artists and entrepreneurs to work towards a healthier forest.