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Forest Trees After Fire

Testimony: Managing California’s Headwater Forests

Lori Pottinger August 24, 2017

Van Butsic, a forestry expert with UC Berkeley’s cooperative extension and a member of the PPIC Water Policy Center’s research network, testified before the Little Hoover Commission in Sacramento today (August 24, 2017).


The hearing focused on California forest management and was held in response to the sharp increase in the number of trees dying in headwater forests. Butsic drew his prepared remarks from the PPIC policy brief California’s Water: Protecting Headwaters. Here is a summary.

The committee asked Butsic to explain the risks to the state’s forested upper watersheds and ways to improve forest health. He described a number of risks, including:

  • Policies aimed at extinguishing fires as quickly as possible—combined with reduced timber harvesting—have resulted in exceptionally dense vegetation in many California forests, increasing the risk of extreme wildfires;
  • The expansion of rural communities into wildland areas has complicated efforts to manage fire risk, and;
  • Stress from drought and a changing climate.

Butsic said California stands to lose timber production, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and water supply if this natural infrastructure continues to decline. He noted that the bulk of forestry funding is spent on putting out fires rather than managing forests for long-term resilience.

Butsic explained that to improve health of headwater forests, California must increase the pace and scale of management tools such as fire and forest thinning. This will require management, regulatory, and legal reforms. He described ongoing research being undertaken by PPIC into ways to improve forest management. And he noted that due to a diverse mix of land ownership in the headwaters area, collaborative approaches will be critical.

Learn more
PPIC is preparing a report on California’s headwater forests. Register to attend the related event, Improving the Health of California’s Headwater Forests.

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