The Sierra Nevada landscape is composed of heavily forested watersheds, cut by flowing mountain streams and dotted with scenic lakes. Since the earliest settlers, residents of the picturesque valleys of the region have built economies from the surrounding natural resources. The Sierra Institute understands that the sustainability of natural ecosystems and rural communities are inextricably linked. Accordingly, we strive to develop innovative projects that tackle the challenges of ecological restoration and rural community development as one.
The Sierra to Cascades All-Lands Enhancement (SCALE) program works to enhance the work of multiple forest collaborative groups by increasing communication and sharing of experiences between the groups, increasing their abilities to successfully reach triple bottom line initiatives.
Our biomass and woody renewables projects aims to reduce fire threats posed by overstocked forests, build ecosystem resilience by promoting sustainable forest management, and benefit rural economies through job creation.
Collaborating with other local groups, our work in the Upper Feather River Watershed promotes long-term watershed health through water quality monitoring, restoration of impacted areas, and encouraging greater community involvement in stewarding this critical watershed.
Climate change is increasing the vulnerability of Sierra Nevada forests and communities to catastrophic wildfire, disease, and insect infestations, while also reducing snowpack and changing watershed hydrology. Longer, drier fire seasons will exaggerate the increased fire threat that many communities and areas face as a result of over-stocked forests.
In a region where water is an invaluable resource, any change to the hydrologic regime is likely to accentuate current concerns and highlight new ones. Documented threats include accelerated runoff that decreases water quality and biotic habitat, decreased overall runoff, and higher air and water temperatures. For example, in the last 50 years the average annual runoff from the North and Middle Forks of the Feather River has declined by 400,000 acre feet. In addition, groundwater input into Lake Almanor (from local snowmelt and the Modoc Plateau) has declined by 40 percent, threatening to further diminish the already declining cold-water fishery. While these impacts are immediate where we live and work, we realize most Californians don’t live in our watershed — But many Californians do rely on our water as shown by the map below.
Resilient systems are more adaptable and have the capacity to continue providing vital ecosystem services under the pressures of a changing climate. In order to accomplish the work needed to restore our forests and watersheds, Sierra Institute is exploring ecosystem services as a new method for generating re-investment in the landscape and its communities. To read our most recent report on ecosystem services,click here.
As part of this effort, we have begun to examine more closely the relationship between forest management and water budgets. Though still in its infancy, this work is one more step toward ensuring the sustainability of rural communities and the surrounding natural resources. Contact us to learn more about this initiative.