Managing Family Forests Is Key to Managing Wildfire
Sep 8, 2021 at 8:00am
Californians broadly agree that wildfire is near the top of the state’s environmental challenges—and the current wildfire season is underscoring just how urgently we need to improve our forest management to prevent extreme wildfires. But some forests are easier to manage than others. In the Sierra-Cascade region, many of the mixed-conifer forests belong to family operations, which typically struggle to carry out robust forest management. This gap in management is putting communities at risk. To date, there’s been relatively little information about family forests. Our latest research helps shed light on where these forests are located, what challenges they face, and which policy moves could help family forest managers bring their forests back to health.
The current situation
Family forests make up roughly a quarter of the privately managed mixed-conifer headwater forests of the Sierra-Cascade range. These forests are small private holdings owned by families, individuals, trusts, estates, and family partnerships. Because they face some of the most pervasive hurdles to management, they have seen the largest increase in living tree biomass—a measure of tree density—across ownership types in the last 20 years. This increase in biomass makes them highly susceptible to extreme wildfire. In the Upper Cosumnes watershed—where the Caldor Fire currently rages—nearly 20% of headwater forests are family-managed.