NSP’s four strategic initiatives are collaborative, multi-year projects that support and extend the impact of our investments in land conservation and stewardship.
The forests and watersheds of the northern Sierra Nevada provide a wealth of benefits to the people of Californians and northern Nevada. These benefits include clean water, carbon storage, outdoor recreation, and an ecosystem with striking resilience to climate change, in addition to forest and agricultural products.
- Clean water: The six rivers that arise in the northern Sierra furnish 65 percent of Californians with a portion of their drinking water while also supplying most of the drinking water to northern Nevada. An important strategy for maintaining drinking water quality and reducing water treatment costs is protecting forested lands in upper watersheds or source areas. A study by the American Water Works Association and the Trust for Public Land found that operating water treatment costs decreased as forest cover in a source area increased. For every 10 percent increase in forest cover in the source area, treatment and chemical costs decreased by approximately 20 percent. Healthy forests also enhance water quality and reduce costs to society by retaining soil moisture and slowing the runoff that contributes to sedimentation in downstream water delivery and power generation facilities.
- Carbon storage: Northern Sierra forests and watersheds are a globally important source for carbon storage. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels are a major contributor to global warming. Trees absorb CO2 through photosynthesis and store it in the form of biomass carbon in their leaves, roots, branches and trunks. Currently, California has approximately 780 million metric tons of carbon stored above ground in its forests — 12% of that, or 102 million metric tons, occurs in the northern Sierra. The amount of carbon stored in the forests of the northern Sierra will grow as forests that have been cut or lost to fire over the last century are restored to greater maturity and productivity through careful stewardship.
What we’re doing
The northern Sierra Nevada has some of the most diverse and productive conifer forests in North America. Unfortunately, a century of fire suppression, logging, road construction, and development have degraded our forests and left them vulnerable to stand-replacing wildfire. Moreover, hotter temperatures and a drier climate have pushed the state’s wildfire season to 78 days, 64 percent longer than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. The larger fires that result are taking up to five times longer to control.
The goal of our Forest and Watershed Restoration Initiative is to restore and steward the forests, rivers, streams, and meadows of the northern Sierra Nevada, enhancing their ecological condition, their resilience to disturbance like fire, flood, and climate change, and their long-term productivity. We seek to:
- Identify and pursue new funding streams for forest restoration in the northern Sierra Nevada. Strategies include payments for watershed services, forest biomass energy, and forest carbon projects.
- Work with the US Forest Service on new management plans for national forests in the northern Sierra Nevada to enhance forest conditions, address climate change, and reduce the risk of high-severity wildfire.
- Implement forest restoration projects across the northern Sierra Nevada to improve forest health and advance understanding of restoration strategies for our forests.
Rural sprawl is without doubt one of the most immediate and ubiquitous threats to the health of natural systems in the Sierra Nevada. Dispersed development fragments the landscape with new roads, buildings and infrastructure, destroying habitat, disrupting wildlife movement, diminishing water quality, and punching holes in the large, contiguous landscapes so essential to maintaining healthy natural systems. Rural sprawl also chips away at the economic viability of working forests and ranches by, among other things, increasing land costs and conflicts with neighbors unaccustomed to rural life. Finally, rural sprawl increases the financial burden on counties by expanding road maintenance and other infrastructure costs (from school buses to ambulance service), especially the cost of fighting fires near isolated homes.
What we’re doing
As NSP invests in conserving large landscapes across the northern Sierra, we believe it is important to support local land use policies that discourage rural sprawl and help address planning mistakes of the past. To that end, we look for opportunities to:
- Support the development and adoption of land use policies to reduce the fragmentation of natural landscapes in the northern Sierra and facilitate the transfer of existing entitlements from rural areas to more appropriate, town-centered locations.
Outdoor recreation and tourism are important economic drivers for the Sierra Nevada, supporting 50 million recreational visitor days each year. The northern Sierra is one of the premier destinations for outdoor enthusiasts in America, drawing visitors from world over to enjoy the scenic splendor, outdoor adventures, and western hospitality our region has to offer. For more than 100 years, much of the landscape NSP is now working to conserve has been virtually and/or legally off-limits to the public, either because it was in private hands or because access to it was blocked by the checkerboard pattern of public-private ownership that predominates between Desolation Wilderness and the Sierra Buttes. That checkerboard ownership interfered with the construction of trails and prevented the public from enjoying thousands of acres of outstanding mountain country that belongs to all of us.
What we’re doing
As our Partnership acquires some of the loveliest places in the northern Sierra Nevada, and opens them up to the public for the first time in centuries (e.g. Independence Lake), we are also making a variety of other investments in recreation and sustainable tourism. Over the next few years, we hope to:
- Spearhead the development of a comprehensive plan to expand low impact recreation on public and protected lands across the northern Sierra.
- Put northern Sierra residents (including youth) to work planning, permitting, building and maintaining a new network of trails, trailheads, huts, and other facilities to improve public access to both public and protected lands in the northern Sierra.
- Develop and implement a plan to expand public awareness of new visitor facilities and, where possible, track the growth of nature-based tourism in our region.
- To learn more about the Sierra Business Council’s collaborative initiative promoting tourism in the region, please visit the Sierra Nevada Geotourism website.
Direct experience outdoors fosters an appreciation for the complexity and beauty of nature. And with that appreciation comes respect. That is as true for rural kids as it is for city kids. Thanks to our Learning Landscapes Initiative, teachers in the Upper Feather River watershed are already bringing their students outside two to three times more often, nurturing a culture of care and stewardship that students will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
What we’re doing
NSP is pioneering an important new approach to environmental education with the Learning Landscapes Initiative. The Learning Landscapes Initiative is working to provide all K-12 students in the Upper Feather River watershed with a chance to be engaged in quality outdoor learning and the stewardship of their local environment. In addition to acquiring lands for use as “outdoor classrooms”, Learning Landscapes offers ongoing teacher workshops, curriculum planning sessions and outings with local natural resource professionals. Over the next few years, we are working to:
- Secure permanent access to “outdoor classrooms” within a 10-minute walk of every school in the Feather River region providing every child the chance to be engaged in quality outdoor learning and the stewardship of his or her local environment.
- Build trails, signs, seating, and other facilities for each of these “outdoor classrooms”, creating an ideal environment for learning, discovery, physical activity, and stewardship.