Fire and Forest Ecology
Fire has long been an essential and natural force that has influenced the ecosystems of the Sierra Nevada. Natural and vital ecological functions such as plant regeneration, soil function, nutrient cycling, habitat revitalization, disease control, predator prey dynamics, biological diversity, and vegetation development are shaped by a natural fire regime. In many locations in the Sierra Nevada, fire return intervals ranged from 5 to 30 years in duration. Over time, such frequent fire return ensured development of forest plant communities that were well adapted and resilient to fire effects.
Today, after a century of suppressing fires in the Sierra Nevada coupled with unsustainable levels of logging, forest ecosystems throughout the range have been significantly altered in both species composition and fire behavior. Focusing on the removal of surface and ladder fuels, while protecting the largest most fire-resistant trees, is essential to returning the Sierra to a natural fire cycle while maintaining the integrity of a healthy forest.
Information about the role of fire in maintaining Sierra Nevada forest biodiversity, structure, and reliency is found throughout this website. The role of fire is inseparable from all other aspects of forest ecology here. Read more about fire science in the links in the drop down menu on the left side of this page, and also check out the links to climate change and other forest threats. Each of these opens up to a new webpage with lots of information, including many scientific research papers that you can read or download.
The forests of the Sierra Nevada are dynamic and interconnected ecosystems which are among the most diverse ecoregions on the planet. The many varied habitats and topography of the region coupled with the frequent fire regime has resulted in unique adaptations and high levels of diversity. The forests contain a wide range of habitats and plant communities including meadows, springs, streams and rivers, oak woodlands, montane chaparral, diverse hardwoods, conifer forests, and a host of unique communities in the sub-alpine and alpine regions. Twenty-five different species of coniferous trees are found in the Sierra Nevada, making it one of the most conifer-diverse regions on the planet. Appropriate management is essential to ensure their long-tem protection and restoration. Sensitive and unique habitats are frequently the home to the region's rarest species.
The forests of the Sierra Nevada provide wildlife habitat, fresh water, biological diversity, and clean air, and they also provide opportunities for recreation and employment. The future of Sierra Nevada forests lies not with intense resource extraction at its center, but with a new era in which forest communities thrive and depend upon the ecosystem services that our forests provide. The economic value of our forests can be difficult to ascertain but we believe that providing jobs and recreation opportunities can and should work in concert with protecting wildlife habitat and the ecological systems that make the Sierra Nevada so unique and valuable. Forest conservation is the foundation upon which stable rural communities depend. You can read more about that aspect of our work in the Community Forestry and Restoration sections of the website.
Sierra Forest Legacy is committed to ensure that projects proposed by land managers of our publicly owned lands do not irreparably harm ecologically rich habitat or change the natural cycles of the forest environment. We are also committed to finding resolution to long-standing conflicts and stalemates regarding the appropriate use of forest resources. We are leading efforts throughout the Sierra Nevada to engage collaboratively with agencies and stakeholder groups to find solutions that will lead to a new era of mutually shared cooperation and commitment to conservation.