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.

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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.

Dr. Malcolm North to Present at February Meeting. NCCLF Loan Approved.

There is good news with respect to financing a scoping study of how best to utilize the excess biomass in our forests.  The Northern California Community Loan Fund has approved a $20,000 zero interest non-recourse loan which will serve as the matching funds for a still to be applied $80,000 Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant.  This would not have been possible without the support of CHIPS which is acting as our fiscal agent.  Special thanks are due to CHIPS and Steve Wilensky for helping us qualify for these matching funds.  Many others helped in ways they will never know, but the key support came from CHIPS and Steve Wilensky.

The February meeting will be about recent research on the relationship between forest cover, forest health and the spotted owl’s preferred habitat.  Dr. Malcolm North, Research Forest Ecologist with the US Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station will be presenting the results of his research.

Spotted-Owl

Western dry forest restoration often focuses on decreasing fuel loads, canopy cover and tree density, treatments that could reduce preferred habitat conditions for sensitive species such as the spotted owl.  In particular, high levels of canopy cover (>70%) have been widely reported as an important feature of spotted owl habitat, but stand-level averages of forest cover do not provide important information on foliage height and gap structure.  In an effort to provide better quantification of canopy structure, we used airborne LiDAR imagery to identify canopy cover in different height strata and the size and frequency of gaps that were associated with owl nest, protected activity center (PAC), and territory scales across four study areas and 316 owl territories.  Although total canopy cover was high in nest and PAC scales, the cover in tall (>48m) trees was the canopy structure most highly selected for, while cover in lower strata (2-16m) was avoided compared to availability in the surrounding landscape. Tall tree cover gradually decreased and lower strata cover increased moving from the nest to the landscape.  Large (>1000m2) gaps were avoided near nests, but otherwise for PAC and territory scales there was no difference in gap frequencies and sizes from the surrounding landscape. With cluster analysis we classified canopy conditions into five structural classes and four levels of canopy cover to assess the relationship between total canopy cover and tree size in nest, PAC and territory scales. High (>70%) canopy cover mostly occurs when large tree cover is high, indicating the two variables are often confounded. Our results suggest that the area in tall trees may be a better measure of preferred owl habitat than total canopy cover as the latter can include cover in the 2-16 m strata that owls actually avoid.  Management strategies that preserve and facilitate the growth of tall trees while reducing the cover and density of understory trees may improve forest resilience to drought and wildfire and may also enhance future owl habitat.

Malcolm North is a Research Forest Ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station, and an Affiliate Professor of Forest Ecology, Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California, Davis.  He received his Master of Forest Science at Yale University and his PhD in Forest Ecology from the University of Washington with Dr. Jerry Franklin.  Malcolm has worked on understanding many aspects of the ecology of Sierra Nevada forests, including the effects of fire suppression, carbon dynamics, ecosystem resilience and management constraints on increasing pace and scale and the broader use of fire.  He is also the lead author of the Forest Service publication GTR 220, an ecosystem management strategy for Sierran mixed-conifer forests.

We will also be continuing the discussion on the advisability of forming a 501c(3) (non-profit) entity to make it easier to attract funding and complete projects.

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