Nine Organizations Announce Partnership to Reduce Wildfire Risk in the North Yuba River Watershed

By on November 19, 2019

The Blue Forest Conservation, Camptonville Community Partnership, National Forest Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Nevada City Rancheria, Sierra County, South Yuba River Citizens League, The United States Forest Service – Tahoe National Forest, and Yuba Water Agency now comprise the North Yuba Forest Partnership (NYFP) and are committed to prioritizing, planning, and executing forest restoration on an unprecedented scale in the North Yuba River watershed of the northern Sierra Nevada.

The diverse group of nine organizations announced their plans last week and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) spells out the NYFP’s commitment to work together to increase the pace and scale of ecologically-based restoration within the North Yuba River watershed. The MOU also details the plans to prioritize community safety, forest health, and resilience through landscape-scale restoration.

“Many forests in the North Yuba River watershed are critically unhealthy, overcrowded with small trees and brush,” said Eli Ilano, Tahoe National Forest supervisor. “Unhealthy forests are at a greater risk of high-severity wildfire due to fire suppression and historic timber harvesting practices, a risk that is exacerbated by a changing climate.”

The North Yuba River forests were once populated by large, widely-spaced trees and beneficial low-to-moderate severity fires. The region is now overrun with vegetation that is not fire-resilient. This has increased the risk of destructive wildfire causing significant damage to local communities, entire ecosystems, as well as watershed health.

“We’re loving our forests to death,” said Willie Whittlesey, assistant general manager of Yuba Water Agency. “A ‘hands-off’ approach to forest management is no longer an option now that our communities, infrastructure and water supply are at significant risk. To make a meaningful impact in this massive effort, it’s going to take all of us who care about the watershed coming together.”

The partnership plans to restore resilience to the North Yuba River watershed by clearing underbrush, thinning smaller trees, managed burning, reforestation, and meadow restoration, among other efforts. In addition, traditional ecological knowledge from the local Nisenan people — a group of Native Americans and an indigenous people of California — will be incorporated into planning and design.

Although planning efforts for the larger North Yuba River watershed are just beginning, the 14,500-acre Yuba Project is already underway, and serves as a pilot for the larger-scale North Yuba River watershed restoration effort. A new financing tool called the Forest Resilience Bond (FRB) — a public-private partnership that accelerates the pace and scale of forest restoration through investment from private capital sources, including foundations, impact investors, and insurance companies – is aiding the efforts of the Yuba Project.

Initially the highest priority is being afforded to at-risk communities, emergency response, evacuation access routes, forests of critical ecological importance, and areas that have the potential to stop a wildfire from spreading. The North Yuba Forest Partnership is a long-term commitment for the nine agencies; the is expected to take up to 20 years to complete.

“This public-private partnership holds promise as a model to restore the forests of the Sierra at a landscape scale,” said David Edelson, Forest Program director of The Nature Conservancy. “By using the latest science, innovative planning and new funding approaches, together we can accelerate the restoration of our forests while maintaining the environmental safeguards and community input that are central to success.”