NEWS WORTH NOTING: Record 129 Million Dead Trees in California; Environmental document released for fish passage and flow improvements in San Joaquin River

Record 129 Million Dead Trees in California

USDA Forest Service and CAL FIRE Working Together to Address Forest Health

From the US Forest Service:

The USDA Forest Service today announced that an additional 27 million trees, mostly conifers, died throughout California since November 2016, bringing the total number of trees that have died due to drought and bark beetles to an historic 129 million on 8.9 million acres. The dead trees continue to pose a hazard to people and critical infrastructure, mostly centered in the central and southern Sierra Nevada region of the state.

“The number of dead and dying trees has continued to rise, along with the risks to communities and firefighters if a wildfire breaks out in these areas,” said Randy Moore, Regional Forester of the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region. “It is apparent from our survey flights this year that California’s trees have not yet recovered from the drought, and remain vulnerable to beetle attacks and increased wildfire threat. The USDA Forest Service will continue to focus on mitigating hazard trees and thinning overly dense forests so they are healthier and better able to survive stressors like this in the future.”

Moore continued, “To increase the pace and scale of this important work, we need to fix how fire suppression is funded. Last year fire management alone consumed 56 percent of the USDA Forest Service’s national budget. As fire suppression costs continue to grow as a percentage of the USDA Forest Service’s budget, funding is shrinking for non-fire programs that protect watersheds and restore forests, making them more resilient to wildfire and drought.”

Though California received record-breaking rains in the winter of 2016-2017, the effects of five consecutive years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and rising temperatures have led to historic levels of tree die-off. The Tree Mortality Task Force (TMTF), with support from the Governor’s office and comprised of more than 80 local, state and federal agencies and private utility companies, continues to remove hazardous dead trees. To date, the TMTF members have collectively felled or removed over 860,000 dead trees; this includes over 480,000 dead trees felled or removed by the USDA Forest Service.

The TMTF members are using a triage approach to this tree mortality crisis, first focusing on public safety by removing dead and dying trees in high hazard areas. To further improve forest health, the USDA Forest Service and CAL FIRE have increased their pace and scale of prescribed fire. The USDA Forest Service has treated over 55,000 acres and CAL FIRE has completed over 33,000 acres in fuel treatment projects. By combining tree removal with prescribed fire, crews will be able to decrease overly dense stands of trees, reduce greenhouse gases, and protect communities across the state.

“Tree mortality at this magnitude takes on-going cooperation between public, non-profit and private entities,” said Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE director and California’s state forester. “California’s forests are a critical part of the State’s strategy to address climate change. By working together and using all the resources at our disposal we will be able to make more progress towards our common goal of healthier, more resilient forests that benefit all Californians.”

With record breaking levels of tree die-off, the TMTF has used this event as an opportunity to collaborate on several fronts: from public workshops about reforestation, public outreach in urban and rural areas, and awarding over $21 million in grants aimed to protect watersheds, remove dead trees and restore our forests. The TMTF continues to collaborate on the efficient use of resources to protect public safety and build consensus around long-term management strategies for California’s forest lands.

“The Tree Mortality Task force has provided an essential venue for coordination of response efforts, exchange of ideas, reporting, and accountability for the ongoing statewide response to this incident,” said Supervisor Nathan Magsig of Fresno County. “Leadership from the Governor’s Office, CAL FIRE and Office of Emergency Services has helped to ensure county issues are heard and addressed. Monthly coordination of the 10 most impacted counties has resulted in a more effective use of resources and has allowed counties to share ideas and successes.”

With a staggering 129 million dead trees in the state, the work of the task force is far from over. The strong foundation built will continue to be an advantage as the TMTF continues to address tree mortality and its impacts.

Learn more about tree mortality and the work to restore our forests in California at the USDA Forest Service’s web page Our Changing Forests. To learn about how to be prepare and protect your home against wildfire and bark beetles visit CAL FIRE’s web page Ready for Wildfire.

Environmental document released for fish passage and flow improvements in San Joaquin River

From the Bureau of Reclamation:

The Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources have prepared a joint Initial Study and Environmental Assessment for the Eastside Bypass Improvements Project. The proposed project, part of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program, has the primary purpose of facilitating fish migration and increasing Restoration Flow capacity in the Eastside Bypass by 2020.

The San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement established a Restoration Goal, “to restore and maintain fish populations in ‘good condition’ in the main stem San Joaquin River below Friant Dam to the confluence of the Merced River, including naturally reproducing and self-sustaining populations of salmon and other fish.” The proposed Eastside Bypass Improvements Project would improve levee stability and thereby increase Restoration Flow capacity in the Eastside Bypass – a critical and needed improvement as the Eastside Bypass between Sand Slough and the Mariposa Bypass is identified as the most limiting channel reach with regards to levee stability. The proposed project also calls for modifications to existing structures in order to facilitate fish passage for federally and state-listed salmonids and other native fish. Project completion is expected by the end of 2020.

The document is available at: https://www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa/nepa_project_details.php?Project_ID=30741 and a hard-copy can be obtained by contacting the individuals below. Comments are due by Jan. 9, 2018, and should be mailed to Rebecca Victorine, Bureau of Reclamation, San Joaquin River Restoration Program, 2800 Cottage Way, Sacramento, CA 95825 or rvictorine@usbr.gov and/or Karen Dulik, California Department of Water Resources, South Central Region Office, 3374 E. Shields Avenue, Fresno, CA 93726 or Karen.Dulik@water.ca.gov.

This IS/EA is a required environmental document under the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The proposed project can be implemented following consideration of comments received on the IS/EA, issuing a Finding of No Significant Impact, and obtaining all necessary permits and approvals.

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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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