SAVING THE WEST: A WHOLE SYSTEMS APPROACH
We (the Center for the Study of Force Majeure, P’isew ‘Mangal, Sagehen Creek Field Station, National Forest Foundation, Shift Consulting and special advisor Amy Horne) formed a coalition that believes there is a major opportunity for a broad range of stakeholders to succeed in resolving in these seemingly intractable problems. We call our group, Saving the West.
The Saving the West team was organized in 2016 by the Center for the Force Majeure to promote a whole systems approach to the challenges of fire and drought in the Sierra Nevada and ultimately across the intermountain west. We have become a collaborative group bringing a range of individuals, organizations, artists, scientists, policy makers and community groups committed to building enduring environmentally informed end-to-end solutions. We believe success is available only when we can inspire the development a 21st century forestry model.
We’re proud to announce that the Center received a Wood Innovations Grant from the US Forest Service to form a Wood Utilization Team for California and Nevada!
“The west covers 11 states, the west is a physical presence of 1.3 million square miles, the west is home for 72 million people, and within its terrain is 1.3 million of now fire endangered acres of forest”
Spoken again and again for understanding to spread
Decades of fire suppression and clear cutting in the western United States have produced forests overgrown with small diameter trees creating thickets that choke out biodiversity and act like a tinderboxes. This inflammatory mix results in forests in constant danger of mega fires, destroying property, wildlife and water supplies, and potentially devastating whole human and non-human communities.
We urgently need to restructure forested areas throughout the west by selectively removing the excess small diameter trees and brush and returning low burning, ground fires to the ecosystem. Fire is essential for forest health, cleaning up underbrush and helping seeds to germinate.
The restorative processes are deceptively simple
The Saving the West project is designed to promote ecological function by selectively cutting young, small diameter trees, restoring ground cover and leaving all the big old ones to preserve variable forest structure.
Massive tree death is becoming a frightening norm
The current backlog of dead timber from previous fires and massive tree mortality—100 million+ trees and counting—this has filled the major mills to capacity for the foreseeable future and left no market for live timber. Finding uses for Sierra timber is critical for the long-term well-being of California as a whole and the Tahoe-Truckee Region in particular. It will allow the thinning and restoration process to be self funded while revitalizing rural economies.
The amount of timber potentially available for extraction is staggering. Literally billions of board feet of timber will burn without control unless we change the way our public and private lands are managed.
The costs of fire control are shocking
Taxpayers spend over $1.5 billion annually on fire control to protect 15 million fire-endangered acres in California. With current burn rates approaching 500,000 acres per year and growing, we will lose the entire forest within a few decades if we don’t change course. These fires also release vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, increasing total atmospheric carbon load under the business as usual regime. The Sierra may soon become a net carbon emitter rather than an agent for sequestration and bulwark against future climate change.
California water problems profound, characterized by flood and drought
California is intermittently in deep crisis around water; Over 5 years of drought reservoirs and groundwater levels were at historic lows. This year intense rainfall led to damaging, top soil eroding, floods and filled reservoirs but still left ground water levels at near historic lows. Forests supply and regulate 2/3rds of California's water, yet the focus during the drought is on the demand side, e.g., water conservation. We pay too little attention to protecting the supply of water at its source and the designed response to this new flood drought cycle is clearly insufficient. Large wildfires harm water supplies by degrading water quality with increased runoff carrying topsoil, debris, ash, and fire-fighting chemicals. Sediments reduce reservoir capacity. Global warming, as science has predicted,has made the extremes of flood and drought a new norm. Unprepared, we have just experienced this phenomena.
At stake is inventing a whole systems way of working
We start with specific successes in California, working closely with government agencies, foundations, community groups and entrepreneurs. The intent to broaden our geographic scope in the entire west where similar problems of fire suppression, drought, the need to implement work at scale and connect to a broader public through targeted communications and art. Yes art! We are working on solutions that integrate:
Low impact, ecologically designed forest management projects at the multiple stand and forest levels;
Long-term job creation focused on small business and underserved communities in economically depressed regions;
Support of a community-centric manufactured wood products industry based on renewable small-tree source materials to run/produce semi-stationary sawmills, cross-laminated timber, oriented strand board, small-scale biomass, woodchip, post-and-pole, and pallet production. Higher value small-diameter wood utilization will not only reduce the heavy carbon footprint of steel and concrete needed in building, it will store massive amounts of carbon indefinitely. New technologies for clean burning fuel will support local electrical generation and heating needs; and
The use of art to generate new ideas and metaphors that can convey complicated climate change, conservation and resource management messages to a far-ranging audience.