This editorial is from the Sacramento Bee:
We Californians take for granted the great forests of the Sierra Nevada. It is where we ski and hike, and breathe fresh air, and it’s the primary source of our water.
It’s all at risk. Drought and bark beetle infestation are the proximate cause of death of more than 100 million trees in California since 2010. But the forests were weakened by climate change, combined with mismanagement that includes well-intentioned wildfire prevention efforts and logging in past decades of old growth trees, which are most resistant to fire and disease.
“There is an urgent need to reform policy and management to ensure that Californians continue to benefit from these forests for generations to come,” a new Public Policy Institute of California report says.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in the Sierra two years ago, citing the massive die-off of trees. In the final days of this legislative session, legislators authorized a statewide vote in 2018 on a $4 billion parks and water bond that includes $142 million-plus to begin restoring forests to some semblance of what they once were.
More immediately, Brown and the Legislature approved another $225 million in cap-and-trade revenue, reserved for the fight against climate change, for forests. That underscored one of California’s inconvenient truths. Like refineries, diesel engines and cars powered by internal combustion, burning and decaying forests spew greenhouse gases.
In April, the Governor’s Tree Mortality Task Force reported that the 2013 Rim Fire at Yosemite emitted 12.06 million tons of carbon dioxide, three times more than all the greenhouse gas reductions achieved that year in all other sectors in California. Worse, the detritus decomposing in the burn area will unleash four times that amount of greenhouse gas in coming decades.
In much of the 15 million acres of mountains from Kern to Siskiyou counties, forests are choking with 400 sickly trees per acre, four times the number in healthy forests. Tools to heal the forests are at hand, but forest management is fraught.
The Public Policy Institute report cited the California spotted owl. The species requires dense forest for nesting, but dense forests are subject to massive fire and disease. Without intervention, nearly all the owl habitat could burn in the coming 75 years.
Some environmentalists oppose logging, while some conservative politicians advocate unraveling environmental restrictions to allow for far more logging. Neither extreme is helpful. Flexibility is needed. The Clean Air Act could, for example, allow for the use of prescribed fires.
Reducing forest density could have the side benefit of increasing run-off by as much as 9 percent, filling streams and rivers for the good of fisheries and for residential, agriculture and industrial use, the PPIC report says.
The report says the cost of wise forest management might not be astronomical. In time, it might pay for itself, assuming mills are retooled or built to accommodate smaller and mid-sized timber. Such mills could provide jobs in parts of the state where unemployment is chronically high.
Clearly, the current math makes no sense. The Public Policy Institute notes that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention and U.S. Forest Service spend $100 million a year on forest management, and $2 billion a year fighting wildfires. Money used to fight fires is money not spent on stewardship.