Image: Yosemite Valley by Jesse Gardner / Unsplash

Healthy, resilient forests provide critical ecosystem services that are essential to climate adaptation in California. Forested lands make up roughly one third of our state, covering nearly 32 million acres. Because of the broad variety of climate zones in California, the State hosts an exceptional diversity of plant and animal species in forest ecosystems that provide essential habitat for native wildlife, store carbon, and filter drinking water. Forest products and forest-based recreation also support rural communities and the state economy. In addition to wildland forests, the urban tree canopy covers 15 percent of California’s urban areas, providing green space and public health benefits to 95 percent of Californians who live in cities.[1] Finally, nearly two-thirds of California’s developed water supply originates from the streams and rivers of the Southern Cascades and Sierra Nevada mountain regions,[2] tying healthy forests to the well-being of most the state’s population, over 25 million residents.

Unfortunately, many of California’s forests are currently degraded as a result of fire suppression activities, past management practices, and climate change. California forests were historically shaped by low-intensity frequent fire;[3] many forests are recently overgrown and have missed their natural fire cycles. As a result, they are less resilient to stresses exacerbated by climate change.[4] These degraded forests are not able to provide the full range of carbon and water storage benefits that could help the state mitigate and adapt to climate change. Furthermore, fragmented and overstocked forests provide less suitable habitat for wildlife and make it more challenging for species to migrate in response to a changing climate.

Given the variety of wildland and urban forest ecosystems and land ownership patterns in California, and the challenges brought on by climate change, there is no single prescription that will restore forest health on its own.[5] However, investing in a number of activities can significantly improve forest resilience.[6] Restoring and protecting forest ecosystem function by reintroducing fire and improving management is necessary to both protect California’s forest base and enhance watershed health. Furthermore, community resilience can be supported by rebuilding California’s forest management workforce, using the workforce to expand the extent and health of California’s urban tree canopy, and advance fire preparedness. Finally, it is important to both foster creative solutions to sustainably utilize biomass from fuels reduction activities, and to better understand climate trends in forests via research and monitoring. In order for each of these activities to be effective in building forest resilience to climate change, collaborative partnerships are critical - particularly with the federal government, which owns over 50% of California’s forest land. Overall, there remains a need for strategies that work across state, federal, tribal, nonprofit, and private management partners and are tailored to address regional needs and ecosystem conditions.

All Resources for Forests