Fire on the Mountain: Rethinking Forest Management in the Sierra Nevada


Report #242, February 2018


The Little Hoover Commission released a new report Monday, calling for a dramatic culture change in the way forests are managed to curb a disastrous cycle of wildfire and tree deaths.

Instead of focusing almost solely on fire suppression, the state must institute wide-scale controlled burns and other strategic measures as a tool to reinvigorate forests, inhibit firestorms and help protect air and water quality, according to the Commission’s report, Fire on the Mountain: Rethinking Forest Management in the Sierra Nevada.

Immediate action is crucial, according to Pedro Nava, chair of the Little Hoover Commission. “Dead trees due to drought and a century of forest mismanagement have devastated scenic landscapes throughout the Sierra range,” said Chair Nava. “Rural counties and homeowners alike are staggering under the financial impacts of removing them. We have catastrophe-scale fire danger throughout our unhealthy forests and a growing financial burden for all taxpayers and government like California has never seen.”

Over the course of the Commission’s year-long study, the number of dead trees in the Sierra rose from 102 million to 129 million. The Commission found that the deadly bark beetle invasion, responsible for the tree kill, signaled a larger problem of mismanaged forests and climate change.

The report, sent to Governor Brown and the Legislature, makes nine recommendations to restore forests back to their historic fire regime. The Commission urges expanded funding for state prescribed fire crews and forest administrators to oversee a transformation to more proactive forest management. Resilient forests improve safety and make economic sense. The costs of mismanaged forests – for every level of government and many California homeowners in and around the Sierra Nevada – have become an unsustainable burden in California. Firefighting costs in the first half of this fiscal year alone have already topped $700 million.

In addition, the Commission found that forest treatments should be accelerated and expanded throughout the Sierra Nevada and that there must be greater teamwork between state and federal forestry agencies to plan and implement the work. And, the state must create a long-term bioenergy plan to address the disposal of millions of dead trees as well as fund and develop a public education campaign about the importance of healthy forests in the Sierra Nevada.

The Little Hoover Commission is a bipartisan and independent state agency charged with recommending ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of state programs. The Commission’s recommendations are submitted to the Governor and the Legislature for their consideration and action.

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