Fires become more frequent while forest health continues to decline.
Wildfire. Fires become more frequent while forest health continues to decline. © Vince Fleming

Stories in California

California’s Wildfire Future

New state legislation and funding could help end neglect of our forests

California lawmakers have committed $1 billion over 5 years to do the expensive but necessary work of better managing our forests to reduce risk of megafires and promote healthier, more resilient forests.

The Nature Conservancy played a leading role in advancing both state and federal policy and funding reforms to accelerate ecological management of forests to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires that have had extraordinary impacts on people and nature.

In particular, the Conservancy led the way on:

  • CA Senate Bill 901, which authorized a five-year, $1 billion effort to reduce fire threats through forest restoration programs.

  • CA Senate Bill 1260, which increases the state’s use of prescribed fire

  • CA Assembly Bill 1956, which increases local fire prevention activities

  • CA Assembly Bill 2518, which increases private investment in forest restoration by expanding the wood products market to include innovative timber products that utilize small diameter trees.

Healthy forests provide clean air, clean water, carbon storage, wildlife habitat, and recreation. Our forests are in crisis and Californians are at unprecedented risk of wildfire disaster.

Director of Policy and External Affairs for The Nature Conservancy

Fires become more frequent while forest health continues to decline

California has experienced some of the worst wildfires in its history, with tragic loss of life and devastation to communities.

The cost of fighting megafires across the country often far exceeds what Congress appropriates to the U.S. Forest Service for fighting fire.

The Conservancy helped craft the federal budget reforms, enacted by Congress earlier this year, that now require the U.S. Forest Service to place emergency firefighting on a similar funding basis as other emergencies, which will potentially free up hundreds of millions of dollars annually to improve forest health and reduce wildfire threats over time.

The estimated cost of damage from one fire is $1.8 billion.
Megafires are expensive The estimated cost of damage from one fire is $1.8 billion. © Luke Flynt
  1. MEGAFIRE: A FAST-MOVING, HIGH INTENSITY FOREST FIRE THAT BURNS AN AREA OF 100,00 ACRES OR MORE
  2. FOREST THINNING: CREATES A HEALTHY, MORE OPEN FOREST, LEADING TO MORE NATURAL DIVERSITY
  3. CONTROLLED BURNS: AN INTENTIONALLY-IGNITED FIRE CONTAINED WITHIN A DESIGNATED AREA. THE GOAL IS TO REMOVE HIGHLY-FLAMMABLE UNDERGROWTH (AND THUS REDUCE THE RISK OF MEGAFIRE)
Preventing Megafires When fire prevention work is put on hold, the risk of megafires increases.

Wildfires continue to get larger, hotter and more destructive

Declining forest health is as much of a problem for people as it is for nature. Forests cover one-third of the United States. The Forest Service manages fully one-fifth of California’s land area and roughly half of the state’s forests. Forested watersheds are the source of most of California’s developed drinking water and the foundation of rural economies throughout the state.

The Nature Conservancy is working with a broad coalition that includes rural counties, water utilities, federal and state agencies, academic researchers and timber companies.
Bringing everyone to the table The Nature Conservancy is working with a broad coalition that includes rural counties, water utilities, federal and state agencies, academic researchers and timber companies. © Jason Houston

Unhealthy forests and the resulting fires put these values at risk, threatening not only lives and communities, but also seriously degrading air quality, water quality and recreational opportunities, while releasing enormous amounts of greenhouse gases.

It creates a vicious cycle: When forest restoration is put on hold, the risk of megafires increases. When megafires happen, it reduces the funds available to better manage our forests

SIERRA NEVADA PROGRAM DIRECTOR AT THE NATURE CONSERVANCY

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