Why is fire so out of control?

Over 100 years of small fire suppression and large tree removal has left the Sierra Nevada with a mess of accumulated discarded woody debris and crowded small trees. When forest fires finally do end-run our suppression efforts, the results are now devastating.

The Sagehen Forest Project aims to address this. Over 18 months, loggers and environmentalists, scientists and land managers, concerned citizens and NGOs came to agreement on a strategy that produces more wood, more wildlife habitat restoration, and no less fuels reduction than a traditional Forest Service prescription. Everyone wins!

How does it work?

We implemented this community strategy on 2500-acres in the Sagehen Experimental Forest, and we are now putting low-intensity fire back onto our landscape to recycle nutrients, thin the constant regrowth, interrupt and deprive large fire of fuel.

And now, these (and other) community-developed strategies are scaling up to larger projects at Lake Tahoe (Lake Tahoe West), the north fork of the Yuba River (North Yuba Project), and in the Central Sierra (Tahoe Central Sierra Initiative). But we need to think even bigger to get ahead of catastrophic wildfire that is now consuming over a million acres of California forest each year.

Using new tools developed by the Forest Service, new approaches to remote sensing data like LiDAR, cutting-edge satellite imagery, and relict patches of native forest remaining in US and Mexican National Parks, it is now possible to overlay an ecologically-based, landscape-scale prescription on hundreds of thousands or millions of acres.

Forest planning at large scale for the first time allows us to see the big picture of how all our individual efforts fit together, and replaces some of the laborious on-the-ground surveying to get us moving faster than the fire.

Now we can answer questions, like: How can we leverage all these smaller efforts? What gaps are there? Where are the wildlife hot-spots we need to protect? What does the wood supply that needs to come off the forest to reset the ecology and allow low intensity fire to return look like?


The California Forest Observatory partners worked with Sagehen to push these ideas forward, developing a powerful new tool for planning and managing fire data: