April Meeting Summary

Our meeting on April 3rd, 2017 at Turtle Rock Park was attended by 14 members of the public and agencies.

We may be making headway with getting the Humboldt-Toiyabe (HT) and California to work together to negotiate a Good Neighbor Authority (GNA) agreement.  California and Region 5 of the Forest Service have such an agreement and Nevada and Region 4 do too.  But the eastern side of Alpine County and much of Mono County are in Region 4 of the Forest Service and hence are not covered by a GNA agreement.  A GNA agreement makes it easier for well-funded agencies such as CalFire and hopefully the Sierra Nevada Conservancy to do work to improve forest health on federal lands.  Senator Feinstein’s office was instrumental in getting the conversations going.  Stay tuned.

Dr. Sarah Bisbing of the University of Nevada, Reno gave an impressive presentation on her research on how climate change is affecting the resiliency of the forests of the Sierra Nevada.  If we act proactively there is a good possibility that although the species mix may be different there will still be forests in the Sierra Nevada.  If we don’t, the existing mixed conifer forests may not survive a warmer and drier climate.  Interestingly, one of the species that has shown itself to be most adaptive is the sequoia.  Areas planted with sequoia 30 years ago by Sierra Pacific Industries now have trees up to 50 feet tall.

Amy Horne of Saving the West updated us on the Mass Timber Conference which had about 1,100 attendees.  Mass timber includes various types of engineered wood products that can be used to construct large buildings and in many instances can replace concrete and steel.  By using mass timber instead of concrete and steel the greenhouse gas emissions associated with concrete and steel can be avoided, and the wood used effectively sequesters carbon that otherwise would be released to the atmosphere in the form of the greenhouse gas CO2.  Some of the mass timber can be produced from trees as small as 5” dbh (diameter breast height).

Amy Horne also briefly discussed the Little Hoover Commission’s report on Rethinking Forest Management in the Sierra Nevada.  The Little Hoover Commission is an independent California state oversight agency with the mission of investigating state government operations and policy, and through reports and legislative proposals make recommendations to the Governor and Legislature to promote economy, efficiency and improved service in state operations.  Their report neatly summarizes all the presentations we have had to date with respect to what makes a forest healthy and resilient, and what needs to be done to return our forests to a resilient state.  It is available here.

Participant updates included the following.  Gavin Feiger reported that the Alpine Watershed Group (AWG) will be having an event at Grover Hotsprings to celebrate Earth Day on April 21st.  During the year the AWG will be constructing an ADA trail at Grover Hotsprings, and they will have a small restoration project in Hope Valley.  Steve Wilensky reported the CHIPS crew will have prescribed fire training in May which will increase their capacity for work.  He also reported that Blue Mountain Electric has signed an offer sheet for $21 million dollars for their planned biomass-to-bioenergy plant, however despite the California Public Utilities Commission ordering Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to sign a power supply contract with Blue Mountain Electric, PG&E has so far refused to do so.  Should PG&E continue to refuse to sign the contract public pressure will be brought to bear through a civil disobedience campaign.  David Griffith reported that there is a Sierra to California All Lands Enhancement (SCALE) conference planned for May 7th and 8th in Sacramento.  The Sierra Institute was willing to sponsor one vehicle to Sacramento and one hotel room per collaborative and anybody interested in taking advantage should contact him.  He reported that the federal omnibus bill just passed included $3.8 billion for wildfire management and $614 million dollars for fuels reduction.   It was also promised to fully fund the Secure Rural Schools program.  He also reported that he sent a support letter to Los Angeles Water and Power in support of their pending decision to purchase power from the Loyalton cogen biomass-to-bioenergy plant.

The next meeting is set for Tuesday May 1st at 6:00 pm at Turtle Rock Park.  We have gone from famine to feast with respect to future speakers.  Eric Morway of the US Geologic Survey will be speaking on water availability in the Carson River basin in May.  Merv George, Forest Supervisor of the Six Rivers National Forest, will speak in June.  Dr. Hugh Safford, Senior Vegetation Ecologist for the USDA-Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region, is scheduled for July.  Ali Ursa, a PhD candidate at the University of Nevada, Reno will be addressing us in August.  Dr. Wesley Kilasten of the US Geologic Survey will be presenting his research on meadow restoration and water supply in the Carson River basin in September.  October will feature Dr. Emanuele Ziaco of the University of Nevada, Reno presenting his research on tree ring analysis of environmental change.

To contact us you can either leave a comment on this blog, or for a private comment, visit our contact us page.

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Dr. Sarah Bisbing to present at April meeting.

At the April meeting Dr. Sarah Bisbing of the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) will be presenting her research about climate change disruption in Sierra Nevada forests: treatments to promote resistance, resilience, and adaptation under future climate and disturbance regimes

Dr. Bisbing’s research utilizes field, lab, and greenhouse studies to understand the primary drivers of tree species’ distributions and evaluate the role of disturbance in altering forest composition, structure, and function.  Her lab is particularly interested in identifying the local abiotic and biotic factors determining successful regeneration and establishment to examine how altered disturbance regimes and ongoing climate change will influence forest resilience and impact species’ ranges.  She will present details of some new projects in development in Sierra Nevada forests and provide background on her lab’s research to date.

Sarah joined UNR as an Assistant Professor of Forest Ecosystem Science in the fall of 2017 after four years as an Assistant Professor at Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo.  She has a B.S. and M.S. in Forestry from the University of Montana and a PhD in Ecology from Colorado State University.  Her research investigates the role that climate, landscape connectivity, and local adaptation play in determining the abundance and distribution of western conifers.  She is specifically interested in the ecological, biogeographic, and evolutionary processes that drive demographic patterns and species distributions.  Sarah’s teaching emphasizes field-based learning, and she is always up for a trip to a Sierra Nevada forest.  When not teaching and researching, you can her find running, biking, or climbing with the lab mascot, Dawkins the Dog.

The ABC’s Articles of Incorporation have been accepted by the California Secretary of State and draft bylaws have been written.  For those interested in reviewing the draft bylaws they are available here.  Comments and corrections will be accepted at the meeting and until April 24th by submitting a comment here, or by phone at 530-694-2168.  Thanks to Michael Barton for his work on preparing the draft bylaws.  At the May meeting we will need to select a Chair, Vice-Chair, and the Secretary-Treasurer.  An application is being filed for an Alpine County Small Grants Program grant to help us with the cost of our monthly meetings and the filing of an application for 501(c)(3) nonprofit designation.

The April meeting is scheduled for Tuesday April 3rd at 6:00 pm at Turtle Rock Park.

March Meeting Summary, 1st Contract Signing

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Irene Davidson and Steve Wilensky after CHIPS signed the Participation Agreement with the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.  (photo Annie Dean)

The big news is that Calaveras Healthy Impact Product Solutions (CHIPS) signed a Participation Agreement with the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest at the meeting.  This will provide the CHIPS/Washoe crew with more work at lower elevations during the winter months and should lead to additional hiring as well.  CHIPS is probably now the third or fourth largest private employer in Alpine County.  Congratulations to CHIPS’s Steve Wilensky and District Ranger Irene Davidson for getting this done.

Our meeting on March 6th, 2017 at Turtle Rock Park was sparsely attended by ten members of the public and agencies.  Several regular participants were ill and others were away.  The Articles of Incorporation have been accepted by the California Secretary of State, and applications for a Taxpayer Identification Number and DUNS Number have been filed.  Michael Barton has essentially completed the draft bylaws and they will be presented for consideration at the April meeting.

Senator Feinstein’s office has been in touch with the Humboldt-Toiyabe Forest Supervisor about how the Humboldt-Toiyabe could take advantage of the literally hundreds of millions of dollars that California is investing in forest health.  This is a work in progress, but it is important that we do whatever we can to get the Carson Ranger District the resources they need to improve forest and watershed health in Alpine County.  As an example of what can be done, the BLM in California only has a $1.0 million dollar budget for forest health related activities for the entire state, but has been able to file applications for about $5.0 million dollars of California Climate Initiative funds to improve forest health.

Dr. Peter Weisberg of the University of Nevada, Reno presented his research on pinyon-juniper dynamics, fuel succession and fire effects: reconciling management objectives with the current state of knowledge.  Although the habitat of pinyon-juniper in the Great Basin has been expanding for the last 200 years or so, it appears to have been stabilizing during the last 20 years.  There isn’t one simple reason for this, but in each area one or more factors may be dominant, such as overgrazing, fire exclusion, climate variability, biogeographic processes, recovery from 19th century wildfire, and reforestation after extensive harvesting.  He pointed out that implementing management objectives will largely determine what things will look like in the future.  What is good for the sage grouse may not be good for the pinyon jay.

Participant updates included the following.  Marina Vance reported that there is an AWG stakeholder’s meeting March 13th at the Hung-A-Lel-Ti community from 5:30 pm-7:00 pm.  Norman Harry will be the guest speaker.  March 10th is AWG’s monitoring day.  Earth Day is April 21st at Grover’s Hot Springs. Coreen Francis reported Tim Riode intends to return to ABC meetings.  Coreen Francis is working to invigorate ABC’s ties with Carson City.  There are $5 million for the Mokeumne Watershed project.  Mark Schwartz reported the Water Company is modernizing with a website which posts historical documents and minutes.  The Water Company is applying for a grant to redo the town’s antiquated plumbing.  Mark Schwartz reported the Economic Development Committee plans to make welcoming signs for Markleeville. They have amended the bylaws to include new members.  Irene Davidson reported she brought the radio repeater to the Board of Supervisor’s meeting for a “show and tell”.  The improved communication system will improve public safety for Markleeville and Alpine County.  David Griffith reported the Alpine Fire Safe Council Community Wildfire Protection Plan update has been sent to all the fire agencies.  It will be submitted to the Board of Supervisors for approval.  David Griffith reported Nextdoor.com  now has over 120 members and is a good way to communicate with our community.  Karrie Baker was instrumental in getting it working well.  David Griffith attended the last Amador Calaveras Consensus Group meeting where the Forest Service reiterated their emphasis on the importance of more collaboration.  David Griffith reported Senator Feinstein’s staff has communicated with Humboldt-Toiyabe Forest Supervisor Bill Dunkelberger.  The goal is to convince the higher ups in the Forest Service that California has a lot of money and that the Humboldt-Toiyabe should apply for funding and assign resources accordingly.

The next meeting is set for Tuesday April 3rd at 6:00 pm at Turtle Rock Park.  Dr. Sarah Bisbing, Assistant Professor of Forest Ecology at UNR will speak in April.  May is still to be decided.  Merv George, Forest Supervisor of the Six Rivers National Forest, will speak in June.  Dr. Hugh Safford, Senior Vegetation Ecologist for the USDA-Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region, is scheduled for July.  Thanks to Coreen Francis for helping firm up speakers.

To contact us you can either leave a comment on this blog, or for a private comment, visit our contact us page.

Dr. Peter Weisberg to present at March meeting.

The March meeting will be about pinyon-juniper dynamics, fuel succession and fire effects: reconciling management objectives with the current state of knowledge.  Dr. Peter Weisberg, Professor of Landscape Ecology at University of Nevada, Reno, will be presenting the results of his research.

He will provide a broad overview of what is known about vegetation change and fire ecology of pinyon-juniper woodlands in the Great Basin.  Across the range of pinyon-juniper woodland in the western United States there has been a marked increase in area burned and average fire size over the past three decades.  However, observed fire rotations have remained within historical ranges as reconstructed by tree-ring based fire history studies, and recent fire regime trends in pinyon-juniper woodlands have been similar to those of other regional land-cover types.  Although there has been a strong pattern of woodland expansion since the late 1800s, not all expansion has been ‘invasion’ arising from historical over-grazing and altered fire regimes, but much has been the result of forest recovery processes, natural stand dynamics, and response to changing climate.  Furthermore, recent declines in tree cover associated with drought and fire have nearly balanced expansion over the past three decades. Regardless of the underlying cause, changes in relative tree dominance alter fuelbed structure and potential fire behavior.  The dominant pinyon-juniper management paradigm – that he will characterize as “landscape restoration from woodland expansion” – needs to be broadened to maintain resilience of the overall landscape mosaic to climate change, fire regime shifts, annual grass invasions, and other inter-related stressors.  Certain management objectives, such as reducing the fire risk to communities, can be achieved through silvicultural practices (e.g. density management, surface or canopy fuels reduction, patch cutting to regenerate understory species within landscape mosaics) that maintain a target level of tree cover and do not necessitate large-scale woodland-to-sagebrush conversion.  Pinyon-juniper silviculture can be further developed for flexibly achieving a range of management objectives, aimed at restoring and maintaining diverse, fire-resilient, climate-resilient, mosaic landscapes that provide essential habitat, forage and cultural resources.

Peter Weisberg is Professor of Landscape Ecology at University of Nevada, Reno where he’s been on the faculty for 15 years and teaches courses in Natural Resource Ecology, Fire Ecology, and Forest and Range Ecology.  He received his BS in Forest Biology from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, his MS in Biogeography from University of Wyoming, and his PhD in Forest Science from Oregon State University.  He and his students have extensively studied natural disturbances such as fire, forest responses to episodic drought, invasive plant species, and plant community response to environmental change and resource management practices, over a broad range of ecosystem types including forests, semi-arid woodlands, riparian and wetland ecosystems, rangelands and deserts.  More than a decade of research in Great Basin pinyon-juniper woodlands and sagebrush ecosystems has focused on understanding the dramatic distributional and structural shifts within the woodland and along the woodland-shrubland boundary.  Outcomes of these investigations have piqued Dr. Weisberg’s interest in the ecological and resource values associated with tree-dominated vegetation in arid lands.

The March meeting is scheduled for Tuesday March 6th at 6:00 pm at Turtle Rock Park.

February Meeting Summary

Our meeting on February 6th, 2017 at Turtle Rock Park was attended by 15 members of the public and agencies.  It was agreed to change the name of the Alpine Biomass Committee to the Alpine Biomass Collaborative (ABC), and go ahead and file Articles of Incorporation for a 501(c)(3) non-profit.  The draft bylaws are almost completed and will be presented for consideration at the next meeting.  The reason for the name change is that it better describes our current level of activity and collaboration is considered essential to qualifying for grant funding.

Our application for $20,000 in matching funds for a potential Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant was approved the Northern California Community Loan Fund (NCCLF).  The funds will be advanced as a 0% interest forgivable loan.  This would not have happened without the strong support of CHIPS, which will be our fiscal agent, and Steve Wilensky.  Many others contributed to our success in ways that they will never know.

Unfortunately although there is Greenhouse Gas Reduction funding available for watershed scale forest health project, it appears that the West Carson project will not benefit from it.  The Forest Service simply does not have the capacity to file the required grant application.  The original ~18,000 acre project has been cut back to about ~2,000 acres this year.

Dr. Malcolm North presented his research on the relationship between optimal habitat for the Spotted Owl and a healthy, fire-resistant forest.  Only about 8% of the needed fuels reduction/forest thinning is being done in comparison with the best estimates of how much was done naturally by wildfire prior to European settlement.  Historical protection of habitat for the Spotted Owl is one of the reasons for this problem, but recent research has shown that knowledge of the preferred habitat was wrong, and in fact their preferred habitat is consistent with our understanding of what makes a healthy forest.

Specific findings are that: 1) cover in tall trees is the most important habitat feature, 2) tall tree cover and canopy cover often co-occur, and since canopy cover is easily (incorrectly) measured, it has been assumed to be most important, 3) tree cover in the height strata associated with ladder fuels is significantly avoided by the owls so reducing ladder fuels should not adversely impact them, and 4) owls do not avoid gaps except in nest selection (i.e., no gaps within 113 m of their nesting location).  Gaps of all sizes are just as present in owl habitat as the surrounding landscape.  Consequently fuels reduction and forest thinning programs that concentrate on the understory should not adversely affect owl habitat and in some cases may enhance it.  Other benefits include a reduction of the risk of catastrophic wildfire, enhanced carbon sequestration as the remaining large trees have more resources (primarily water) to resist disease, and improved economic opportunities in rural areas.

Participant updates included the following.  Gavin Feiger of the Alpine Watershed Group reported that they will be celebrating Earth Day on April 21st at Grover’s Hot Springs.  David Griffith reported that the Sierra Nevada Conservancy was looking for a new Area Representative for Alpine, Mono, and Inyo counties.  He also reported that the Governor’s Proposed Budget included $180 million of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds (GGRF) for forest health for next year.  In the next few months CalFire will be calling for proposals for their Fire Prevention Grant Program (formerly SRA Grant Program) which would be a good fit for the ~1,000 acres that the Forest Service already has completed the required NEPA documentation.  He also stated that there have been preliminary conversations with staff from Senators Feinstein and Harris about encouraging Region 4 the Forest Service and the Humboldt-Toiyabe to take advantage of the GGRF funding available from California.  Steve Wilensky reported that CHIPS had completed the BIOMAT auction process and their bid to generate energy from biomass was accepted at a price of 19.725¢/kwh.  CHIPS estimates that they anticipate being profitable at a price of 17.5¢.  They have broken ground on constructing the facility and are negotiating with three organizations for financing a 3 MW facility.  Their Washoe crew will be working on reseeding a 4,000 acre burn near Carson City.  Ron Hames reported that the Sierra Nevada Conservancy was planning for possibly receiving up to $305 million dollars in funding depending on the fate of the Senate Bill 5 proposition in June and the Water Supply and Water Quality Act of 2018 proposition in November.

The next meeting is set for Tuesday March 6th at 6:00 pm at Turtle Rock Park.  Currently there is no speaker scheduled but we will announce who will be making a presentation about a week before the meeting.  Future speakers include Merv George Jr. of the US Forest Service in June and Hugh Safford of the US Forest Service in July.

To contact us you can either leave a comment on this blog, or for a private comment, visit our contact us page.