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Inyo National Forest

Sequoia National Forest

Sierra National Forest

A Conservation Strategy

August 27, 2012

Sierra Forest Legacy recently organized a coalition-wide effort to create a Conservation Strategy for the Sierra Nevada, as the eleven national forests in the Sierra Nevada have entered the time frame to fulfill their legal requirement to develop new forest plans. This page is the hub for links to sections of the document and related documents.


A legacy of economic and social decisions made by forest landowners and managers over the past 150 years have precipitated the need to develop a range-wide conservation strategy with a firm scientific foundation. These decisions have significantly altered forest structure and function across the Sierra Nevada landscape. The dramatic loss of old growth forests and larger tree structures and the resulting suppression of key ecological processes, including the alteration of natural fire regimes, have stripped the mountain range of its resilience, structural components, and vegetation diversity. The result has been endangered wildlife diversity, increasing uncharacteristic fire risk, accelerated density-related forest health threats, and shifts in tree species composition. These changes have compromised forest resilience, biodiversity, and species viability at large spatial scales. Without a new scientifically sound planning direction,  the impacts of  climate change and other stressors can be expected to further destabilize forest ecosystems.

Forest plans are legally enforceable management documents which set the planning direction for all natural resources on national forests for the coming 15 to 20 years. These plans affect approximately 12 million acres of public lands on 11 national forests in the Sierra Nevada, and represent the best opportunity to comprehensively address climate change as a stressor in this region while securing improved forest and wildlife conservation at the landscape scale.

Using the Conservation Strategy, we seek to promote forest plans that will address landscape-level conservation strategies for ecosystems and specific terrestrial and aquatic species, incorporating the best interpretations of changing climate adaptation scenarios. We will support plans that are tied to robust adaptive management scenarios and respond in a timely manner to feedback from monitoring, and incorporate new scientific understanding as it evolves over the planning period. We will also support forest plans that promote diverse economic options that are consistent with ecologically sustainable management and restoration.

Recommended Citation: Britting, S., Brown, E., Drew, M., Esch, B., Evans, S., Flick, P., Hatch, J., Henson, R., Morgan, D., Parker, V., Purdy, S., Rivenes, D., Silvas-Bellanca, K., Thomas, C., and Van Velsor, S. 2012. National Forests in the Sierra Nevada: A Conservation Strategy. Sierra Forest Legacy. August 27, 2012.

Author/contributor affiliations and links to websites:

Susan Britting, Darca Morgan, Vivian Parker, Don Rivenes, Karina Silvas-Bellanca, and Craig Thomas, Sierra Forest Legacy; Emily Brown, Earthjustice; Mark Drew and Jenny Hatch, CalTrout; Bryce Esch and Stan Van Velsor, The Wilderness Society; Steve Evans, Friends of the River; Pam Flick, Defenders of Wildlife; Ryan Henson, California Wilderness Coalition; Sabra Purdy, UC Davis; Don Rivenes, Forest Issues Group and Sierra Forest Legacy

Download the full document (2 MB)

Download by sections:

I. Introduction

II. People and the Sierra Nevada

III. Planning

A. Planning Process and Integration

B. Adaptive Management and Monitoring

IV. Resource Area

A. Restoring Fire as an Ecological Process

B. Structural Diversity of Forests and Adjacent Habitats

C. Maintain and Restore Old Forest Habitats and Associated Species

D. Restore and Maintain Aquatic Ecosystems

E. Conservation of Species at Risk

F. Species Movement and Habitat Connectivity

G. Management of Invasive Species

H. Travel Management

I. Protecting Roadless Areas and Recommending New Wilderness Areas

J. Wild and Scenic Rivers: Evaluation and Recommendation

K. Special Interest Areas and Research Natural Areas


Conserving Rare Carnivores in the Interior Mountains of California

In support of the Strategy, the Conservation Biology Institute has simultaneously released "Decision-Support Maps and Recommendations for Conserving Rare Carnivores in the Interior Mountains of California." The study area includes the Sierra Nevada Range and the southern Cascade Range including 12 national forests, state parks, private lands, and tribal lands. This supporting document represents a spatially explicit model to be used for supporting management decisions to sustain populations of four species: Pacific Marten, Fisher, Wolverine, and Sierra Nevada red fox.

Decision Support Maps and Recommendations for Conserving Rare Carnivores in the Interior Mountains of California (6 MB PDF)

The results and recommendations of this document are intended to complement the forest plan revisions and other conservation strategies being developed for fisher, climate adaptation, and reintroduction of these four species.

Freshwater Resource Protection

In December 2011, Sierra Forest Legacy hosted a workshop with Pacific Rivers Council, CalTrout, UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, and UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design, to discuss new scientific research for management of aquatic and riparian habitats, focusing on watershed protection and restoration in the Sierra Nevada since the 1996 Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project (SNEP). The two-day workshop was attended by representatives from Federal agencies, academia, research, and conservation organizations to discuss trends and share information about aquatic diversity and species conservation; fire, fuels, and forest management in riparian areas; and restoration of Sierra Nevada meadows and meadow-dependent aquatic and riparian species at multiple scales.

The workshop proceedings compiled by Pacific Rivers Council summarize areas of agreement, disagreement, and the critical points of uncertainty for aquatic, riparian, and watershed protection. This effort lays the foundation for recommendations on aquatic diversity and species conservation, fire and fuels management in riparian areas, and recommendations for meadow restoration in the Sierra Nevada. Download the summary below.

SNEP Plus 15 Years: Ecological and Conservation Science for Freshwater Resource Protection and Federal Land Management in the Sierra Nevada (576 KB PDF)

Following upon the post-SNEP report, Pacific Rivers Council compiled the following report, completing our comprehensive conservation strategy. The report can be downloaded here:

Conservation of Freshwater Ecosystems on Sierra Nevada National Forests -- Policy Analysis and Recommendations for the Future (13.97 MB PDF)

Learn more about the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) here, and go to forest plan revision website here.