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Informing Sierra Nevada Forest Restoration: Re-measurement and Analysis of 1911 Forest Inventory Data

The Issue

Accurate historical characterizations of fire-frequent conifer forests are important to understanding contemporary conditions resulting from past forest management practices. However, historical data sets are often incomplete and highly localized, resulting in imperfect characterizations. Large areas (~16,000 ha) in the central Sierra Nevada were inventoried in 1911, and relocated and re-sampled approximately 100 years later following divergent management programs (widespread harvesting and fire suppression) and wildfire. This effort resulted in an unprecedented comparison of forest structure, species composition, regeneration, and fire effects.

What Has ANR Done?

Supported by many field technicians, forest and fire science researchers, and collaborators over the years, a network of forest inventory plots and a database has been established from our ongoing work and is well suited for long-term studies. Researchers located 294 inventoried areas across 16,000 ha of forest and field crews established a network of 246 permanent plots within the areas. The 2013 Rim Fire occurred during the study period, and data was collected before and after the fire. We have already engaged with Federal agencies (USFS and NPS), forest managers, researchers, and the public regarding our results. In addition to our publications and outreach, future impacts of forest management activities will be documented through our project.

The Payoff

Research informs forest management plans

The present day forest is substantially altered compared to the 1911 forests, which had a lower density of trees and more variety. The changes can be largely attributed to the management practice of fire suppression and past logging. Fire, a key ecosystem process, frequently occurred in the study area until 1899.

Our network of inventory plots, with repeated measurements contrasting a century of different management strategies, is providing and will continue to provide robust information on forest ecology to supplement the USFS in their Forest Plan revisions in the Sierra Nevada. Some data is already being used for the USFS Forest Plan Amendment. Discussions with the public and other interested groups will foster additional research, which can build consensus on desired goals for forest restoration in the next several decades. Additionally, future inventories will provide insights on what impacts the 2013 Rim Fire had on mixed conifer forests in the Sierra Nevada.

The partnerships created from this project have also been important. As a result of our extension and social media, we have been contacted by dozens of managers, private landowners, environmental groups, and federal agencies to discuss our work. Our published papers are already being cited and will continue to be useful to those creating management plans to restore mixed conifer forests in the Sierra Nevada and elsewhere in California.


Supporting Unit: Environmental Science, Policy and Management (ESPM)

Scott Stephens
University of California, Berkeley, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management

Susie Kocher
Forestry/ Natural Resources Advisor
Central Sierra Cooperative Extension