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Finally, a focus on saving the great forests of the Sierra. But is it too late? SacBee Editorial

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Sacramento Bee Editorial  September 21, 2017 read full SacBee editorial here

We Californians take for granted the great forests of the Sierra Nevada. It is where we ski and hike, and breathe fresh air, and it’s the primary source of our water.

It’s all at risk. Drought and bark beetle infestation are the proximate cause of death of more than 100 million trees in California since 2010. But the forests were weakened by climate change, combined with mismanagement that includes well-intentioned wildfire prevention efforts and logging in past decades of old-growth trees, which are most resistant to fire and disease.

[Governor] Brown and the Legislature approved another $225 million in cap-and-trade revenue, reserved for the fight against climate change, for forests. That underscored one of California’s inconvenient truths. Like refineries, diesel engines and cars powered by internal combustion, burning and decaying forests spew greenhouse gases.

In April, the Governor’s Tree Mortality Task Force reported that the 2013 Rim Fire at Yosemite emitted 12.06 million tons of carbon dioxide, three times more than all the greenhouse gas reductions achieved that year in all other sectors in California. Worse, the detritus decomposing in the burn area will unleash four times that amount of greenhouse gas in coming decades.

In much of the 15 million acres of mountains from Kern to Siskiyou counties, forests are choking with 400 sickly trees per acre, four times the number in healthy forests. Tools to heal the forests are at hand, but forest management is fraught.

…Some environmentalists oppose logging, while some conservative politicians advocate unraveling environmental restrictions to allow for far more logging. Neither extreme is helpful. Flexibility is needed. The Clean Air Act could, for example, allow for the use of prescribed fires.

…Reducing forest density could have the side benefit of increasing run-off by as much as 9 percent, filling streams and rivers for the good of fisheries and for residential, agriculture and industrial use, the PPIC report says.

The report says the cost of wise forest management might not be astronomical. In time, it might pay for itself, assuming mills are retooled or built to accommodate smaller and mid-size timber. Such mills could provide jobs in parts of the state where unemployment is chronically high.

…Our re-engineered state of 40 million people faces many problems. The water delivery system is oversubscribed and antiquated. Billions of dollars should be spent to reinforce California against floods.

But there is cause for optimism. Laird last month announced the Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative with other top officials, and some significant environmental groups are joining longtime advocates to focus on Sierra restoration. There is some support in Congress for wiser forest management.

And now comes an infusion of state money, not to be taken for granted, and none too soon.

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