Study Description (read the full study here)

For this study, the Little Hoover Commission reviewed the state’s forest management in response to the tree mortality crisis in the Sierra Nevada. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported in December 2017 that approximately 27 million trees had died statewide on federal, state and private lands since November 2016. The tally brought to 129 million the number of trees that have died in California forests during years of drought and bark beetle infestations since 2010. Most of the dead trees, the USDA stated, were in the southern and central Sierra region, though northern counties showed increasing tree mortality.

The Commission studied the state’s response to the crisis, including the tree die-off’s intersection with catastrophic wildfire, greenhouse gas emissions and watershed health. The focus of the Commission’s review went beyond the crisis, however, and examined the state’s plans for recovery and its strategy to position itself ahead of future crises through proactive forest management.

The Commission held three hearings and an advisory committee meeting during this study.  The first hearing, on January 26, 2017, introduced the Commission to the tree mortality crisis and provided details on how the state is responding.  In its second hearing, on April 27, 2017, Commissioners heard the “boots on the ground” perspective of those doing the hands-on work of responding to the crisis and managing forests.  Additionally, the Commission was introduced to larger concepts of forest management.  The focus on restoring forests to resiliency continued in the third hearing, on August 24, 2017.  The Commission’s advisory committee meeting on August 23, 2017, looked at the role of bioenergy in responding to the tree mortality crisis and long-term forest management.

Additionally, the Commission and staff went on three site visits.  The first was to the Blodgett Forest Research Station within the El Dorado National Forest in April 2017.  Led by Scott Stephens, a professor of fire science and the chair of the Division of Ecosystem Science at the University of California, Berkeley, this site visit allowed the Commission to see firsthand the different methods of restoring forests to resiliency.  In May 2017, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy took Commission staff to Shaver Lake in Fresno County, an area hard hit by the tree mortality crisis.  Staff learned about collaborative efforts to manage forests within California and the work the North Fork Community Development Council had done to spur economic growth with wood removed from the forest.  Staff also learned about the private sector’s role in reforestation.  Finally, in November 2017, staff visited the L.A. Moran Reforestation Center in Davis, California, to learn about CAL FIRE’s work to collect, clean, test and store the seeds from California’s trees and reopen its nursery to aid in reforestation.