Thinning for Forest Restoration

Forest RestorationDecades of fire suppression and rampant logging have left the forests of the Sierra Nevada with crowded, small trees that do not provide the necessary habitat to support many native species of plants and wildlife. They are also at a high risk for catastrophic fire and pest infestation. Literally hundreds of thousands of acres of public forests in the Sierra Nevada could benefit from restoration activities that target these small diameter “problem fuels.”

One component of forest restoration is the thinning of overly dense areas - particularly in the Community Protection Zones where the forest abuts homes. By removing some of the smaller diameter trees, foresters are encouraging the recovery of the natural structure and function while also reducing the risk of uncontrollable fires. Such activities allow low intensity fire to be reintroduced and play a natural regenerative role. Research has demonstrated that reducing surface fuels through the use of prescribed fire is the key to making forests resilient. While we know that some fires cannot be stopped regardless of pre-treatments, a resilient forest is one that recovers quickly, with net benefits for wildlife and with net carbon storage maximized over time.

Keeping our forests fire resilient, and keeping as many of the largest trees as possible intact, is essential to slow the growing threat from global climate change. The forests of the Sierra Nevada can play a huge role in providing carbon storage, or sequestration, in order to help cool the planet and protect our water supplies. Green jobs in the woods can play a significant role in helping to restore our forests so that the benefits of carbon storage can be maximized.

Increasing logging, however--at levels that are not sustainable and which can actually increase fire risk--should not be mistaken as "forest restoration." Proposals to radically increase logging in the guise of restoration, or in order to provide short term bursts of economic boom in Sierra forest communities, should be evaluated honestly and objectively on a project by project basis. Our communities and our forests deserve the best efforts of everyone involved to find solutions that work for the long term health of the planet and Sierran rural communities.

Some research projects are exploring the potential of the small-diameter "in the round form" as a structural material for uses such as bridges, boardwalks, trail structures, picnic shelters, storage sheds, and other rustic-type buildings. Providing a source for wood products made from these small diameter and under-utilized trees helps to support the shift towards an economy based on restoration and conservation, rather than resource extraction that is unsustainable both economically and ecologically. We can have both thriving and healthy forests, as well as thriving small scale forest industries. Read more about some of these efforts in the links to the left.