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California, U.S. Forest Service to Share Stewardship of State Forests

Sequoia National Forest. – Courtesy photo by Suresh Ramamoorthy on Unsplash

The Newsom Administration and the U.S. Forest Service have announced a new joint state-federal initiative to “reduce wildfire risks, restore watersheds, protect habitat and biological diversity, and help the state meet its climate objectives,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.

The Agreement for Shared Stewardship of California’s Forest and Rangelands includes a commitment by the federal government to match California’s goal of reducing wildfire risks on 500,000 acres of forest land per year. According to most experts, at least one million acres of California forest and wildlands must be treated annually across jurisdictions.

A historical transition toward unnaturally dense forests, a century of fire suppression and climate change resulting in warmer, hotter and drier conditions have left the majority of California’s forestland highly vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire and in need of active management. Since the federal government owns nearly 58% of California’s 33 million acres of forestlands, while the state owns 3%, joint state-federal management is crucial to California’s overall forest health and wildfire resilience. 

Coordination is key since nearly half of the state dollars invested in fuels management in recent years was spent on federal land.  

“Wildfires don’t stop at jurisdictional boundaries. As we respond to wildfires in real-time this summer, improving coordination between the major stewards of California’s forested land will help us protect communities and restore forest health across California,” Governor Gavin Newsom said. “We are grateful to secure the U.S. Forest Service’s commitment to help us more effectively address the scale of California’s current wildfire crisis.”

The Shared Stewardship Agreement outlines six core principles and nine specific actions that will drive state-federal collaboration:

  • Prioritize public safety.
  • Use science to guide forest management.
  • Coordinate land management across jurisdictions.
  • Increase the scale and pace of forest management projects.
  • Remove barriers that slow project approvals.
  • Work closely with all stakeholders, including tribal communities, environmental groups, academia and timber companies.

Specifically, through this agreement California and the U.S. Forest Service commit to execute the following activities together:

  • Treat one million acres of forest and wildland annually to reduce risk of catastrophic wildfire (building on the state’s existing 500,000-acre annual commitment).
  • Develop a shared 20-year plan for forest health and vegetation treatment that establishes and coordinates priority projects.
  • Expand use of ecologically sustainable techniques for vegetation treatments such as prescribed fire.
  • Increase pace and scale of forest management by improving ecologically sustainable timber harvest in California and grow jobs by tackling structural obstacles, such as workforce and equipment shortfalls and lack of access to capital.
  • Prioritize co-benefits of forest health such as carbon sequestration, biodiversity, healthy watersheds and stable rural economies.
  • Recycle forest byproducts to avoid burning slash piles.
  • Improve sustainable recreation opportunities.
  • Enable resilient, fire-adapted communities.
  • Share data and continue to invest in science.

The Great American Outdoors Act, signed by President Trump on Aug. 4, will provide critical funding for the Forest Service’s work in California.

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