News Worth Noting: Forest Service survey finds record 66 million dead trees in Southern Sierra Nevada; State Water Board approves spending plans for Drinking and Clean Water Funds; Feinstein introduces bill to protect habitat along Santa Ana River

Forest Service Survey Finds Record 66 Million Dead Trees in Southern Sierra Nevada

Underscores Need for Congress to Take Action on Fire Budget Fix

From the USDA:

usda logoThe U.S. Forest Service today announced that it has identified an additional 26 million trees dead in California since October 2015. These trees are located in six counties across 760,000 acres in the southern Sierra Nevada region of the state, and are in addition to the 40 million trees that died statewide from 2010 to October 2015, bringing the total to at least 66 million dead trees. Four consecutive years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and warmer temperatures are leading to historic levels of tree die-off.

“Tree dies-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that puts property and lives at risk,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “While the fire risk is currently the most extreme in California because of the tree mortality, forests across the country are at risk of wildfire and urgently need restoration requiring a massive effort to remove this tinder and improve their health. Unfortunately, unless Congress acts now to address how we pay for firefighting, the Forest Service will not have the resources necessary to address the forest die-off and restore our forests. Forcing the Forest Service to pay for massive wildfire disasters out of its pre-existing fixed budget instead of from an emergency fund like all other natural disasters means there is not enough money left to do the very work that would help restore these high mortality areas. We must fund wildfire suppression like other natural disasters in the country.”

Between 2010 and late 2015, Forest Service aerial detection surveys found that 40 million trees died across California – with nearly three quarters of that total succumbing to drought and insect mortality from September 2014 to October 2015 alone. The survey identified approximately 26 million additional dead trees since the last inventory in October, 2015. The areas surveyed in May covered six southern Sierra counties including Fresno, Kern, Madera, Mariposa, Tuolumne and Tulare. Photos and video of the May survey are available on the Forest Service multimedia webpage.

Last fall, Governor Brown declared a state of emergency on the unprecedented tree die-off in California and formed a Tree Mortality task force to help mobilize additional resources for the safe removal of dead and dying trees. The Forest Service is committing significant resources to restore impacted forests including reprioritizing $32 million in California to conduct safety-focused restoration along roads, trails and recreation sites. To date, the Forest Service has felled over 77,000 hazard trees, treated over 13,000 acres along 228 miles of roads around communities and recreation sites, and created 1,100 acres of fuel breaks. Work on another 15,000 acres is in progress.

Forest Service scientists expect to see continued elevated levels of tree mortality during 2016 in dense forest stands, stands impacted by root diseases or other stress agents and in areas with higher levels of bark beetle activity. Additional surveys across the state will be conducted throughout the summer and fall.

With the increasing size and costs of suppressing wildfires due to climate change and other factors, the very efforts that would protect watersheds and restore forests to make them more resilient to fire in the future are being squeezed out of the budget. Last year fire management alone consumed 56 percent of the Forest Service’s budget.

Learn more about tree mortality and the work to restore our forests in California at the Forest Service’s web page Our Changing Forests.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands managed by the Forest Service contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone and provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply.

For an interactive look at USDA’s work in conservation and forestry over the course of this Administration, visit USDA Results: Caring for our Air, Land and Water.

State Water Board approves spending plans for Drinking and Clean Water Funds

From the State Water Resources Control Board:

SWRCB logo water boardsThe State Water Resources Control Board approved the intended use plans for the Drinking Water and Clean Water state revolving funds for fiscal year 2016-17. These reports outline the State Water Board’s business plans for the two funds, including revised Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 (Proposition 1) guidelines.

These two funds are critical in providing financing for projects that supply clean and safe drinking water, as well as create better water quality and sustainable and reusable water resources. The Drinking Water fund, established in 1996 as part of the Safe Drinking Water Act, offers financial assistance to public water systems for drinking water infrastructure improvements. The Clean Water fund, established in 1989 under the Clean Water Act, funds projects such as wastewater treatment and water recycling facilities; wastewater collection systems; and non-point source or estuary projects.

The intended use plans explain what types of projects the State Water Board anticipates funding this year and identifies the appropriate financing terms. These use plans are required under federal regulations and are submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to receive grant funding.

Some changes for the 2016-17 Drinking Water State Revolving Fund plan include: broadening certain extended 30-year financing eligibilities; proposing 30-year financing for eligible public water systems serving non-disadvantaged communities; up to $74 million in Prop 1 technical assistance funding for small, disadvantaged community drinking water and wastewater systems; increased access to principal forgiveness and grant funding for small water systems serving disadvantage communities; and more.

For the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, some key provisions for the 2016-17 plan include: Prop 1 funding for the Small Community Grant Fund to help promote water quality improvements for disadvantaged communities; a focus on finding the best available funding sources for clean water projects; and Prop 1 funding for recycled water and storm water projects.

For more information, see the draft Drinking Water and Clean Water intended use plans.

Feinstein Introduces Bill to Protect Habitat Along Santa Ana River

Dianne_Feinstein,_official_Senate_photo_2Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced the Santa Ana Wash Plan Land Exchange Act to direct the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District and the Bureau of Land Management to exchange land in the Santa Ana Wash, at the junction of the Santa Ana River and Mill Creek.

The 4,500 acre Santa Ana Wash is currently a patchwork of land parcels owned by the water conservation district or BLM. The land exchange would help consolidate 1,347 acres of open space to preserve and protect habitat along the river’s floodplain as part of the broader Santa Ana River Wash Plan.

The area is also occupied by two mining companies that extract materials for cement and concrete production. The bill allows these commercial operations to continue in the Santa Ana Wash in an environmentally sensitive manner.

“Smarter land management will allow us to preserve sensitive habitat in the Santa Ana Wash while protecting the economic interests of the local community,” said Senator Feinstein. “By consolidating pristine land and moving mining operations to more suitable land parcels, we can efficiently manage the Santa Ana Wash in a way that benefits everyone.”

Under the Wash Plan, new land would be set aside for conservation purposes near land already managed by BLM. This bill lets the water conservation district exchange 310 acres of pristine land for 327 acres of degraded federal land managed by the BLM.

In addition to the 1,347 acres of protected habitat, the Wash Plan allows the development of 15 miles of public use trails, supports the recharge of local ground water aquifers through 77 recharge basins and allows mining operations to continue, supporting over $36 million in local annual payroll.

Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) and Paul Cook (R-Calif.)

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About News Worth Noting:  News Worth Noting is a collection of press releases, media statements, and other materials produced by federal, state, and local government agencies, water agencies, and academic institutions, as well as non-profit and advocacy organizations.  News Worth Noting also includes relevant legislator statements and environmental policy and legal analyses that are publicly released by law firms.  If your agency or organization has an item you would like included here, please email it to Maven.

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