Frequently Asked Questions
Eastern Sierra Climate and Communities Resilience Project
Why does the project have to be so big?
The pace and scale at which forest health is declining necessitates solutions at a landscape scale. A smaller project size would leave most of the forest untreated and in a state where forest and ecosystem health would continue to degrade. While a smaller project surrounding the Town of Mammoth Lakes (TOML) would improve community resilience, without treating the surrounding forest, tree densities and fuel loads near the TOML would remain high which would result in continued degradation of forest health and would limit the ability of fire managers to reintroduce fire to the landscape. This would limit the ability to meet the full purpose and need of the project to improve forest health and create conditions to allow for the reintroduction of beneficial fire.
Why do we have to treat in Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRA)?
Treatments within the IRA are necessary to increase community wildfire resilience, restore forest health, and increase the ability to restore beneficial fire to the landscape. The proximity of IRA to the Town of Mammoth Lakes is concerning due to high fuel loads, stand density and resultant increasing tree mortality within a short distance of the town. The topography, accessibility and local weather patterns suggest that ignitions in IRA would be extremely difficult to suppress and will likely result in the spread of uncharacteristic wildfire in most scenarios. Additionally, existing conditions in IRA make it improbable to effectively protect communities and natural resources from the spread of uncharacteristic wildfire and severely limit the ability to restore fire to the landscape in other areas of the IRA.
What type of forest treatments are going to be conducted in the ESCCRP?
Treatments would include ecological forest thinning, fuels reduction, and restoration treatments. Ecological forest thinning includes the removal of trees to restore historic levels of density and heterogeneity to the landscape. Trees targeted for removal would include trees that are small-diameter, low-ecological value, and where densities risk longterm tree health due to competition for resources. Fuels reduction treatments include the removal of understory trees that would act as ladder fuels. Restoration treatments include the removal of competing conifers in specialized habitats such as meadows, whitebark pine, aspen, riparian areas, and sagebrush. Shrub mowing also could be used in certain circumstances to protect infrastructure and key bi-state sage grouse habitat. Mechanical, hand, and aerial methods could be used in each of these treatment types. Mechanical equipment, such as skidders, feller bunchers, forwarders, masticators, and harvesters could be used on 63 percent of the Project area (approximately 36,700 acres). Work on the remaining area (approximately 21,300 acres) will be done by using hand thinning or aerial methods (helicopters or skyline cable yarding systems) due to limited access and to protect sensitive resources. Tethered logging systems may also be used to reduce soil impacts. The proximity of IRA to the Town of Mammoth Lakes are concerning due to high fuel loads, stand density and resultant increasing tree mortality within a short distance of the town. The topography, accessibility and local weather patterns suggest that ignitions in IRA would be extremely difficult to suppress and will likely result in the spread of uncharacteristic wildfire in most scenarios. Additionally, existing conditions in IRA make it improbable to effectively protect communities and natural resources from the spread of uncharacteristic wildfire and severely limit the ability to restore fire to the landscape in other areas of the IRA.
Why do we have to cut green trees?
Much of the forest within the ESCCRP is about three times denser than it would have been historically due to a lack of low and moderate severity fire. When there are too many trees crowded in a forest, they compete for nutrients, light and water. This competition creates stress which makes trees more vulnerable to drought and insect attacks. Removing some of these trees reduces this competition and allows remaining trees to grow big and healthy and to be more resilient to disturbances. Additionally, removing some of these trees reduces the ladder fuels (vegetation that allows a fire to transition from the forest floor to the tree canopy) which will reduce the likelihood of canopy fire which would decimate most trees in a forest, including large, old trees. Because of the current high-density condition of our Eastside forests, a high number of trees will have to be removed to meet desired conditions and basal area targets in accordance with the INF Land Management Plan 2019, which follows the best available science and allows for better informed, scientifically backed land management at scale.
What will happen to the cut wood?
Felled trees, cut limbs, and undesirable surface fuel loads within treatment areas would be lopped and scattered, piled, and burned, chipped, masticated, or removed from the site. This material is also referred to as “slash.” The INF is working with partners to find new, innovative uses for forest materials to identify the best use for this wood. Few merchantable sawlogs will be created as a result of this project due to poor forest conditions, however, logs currently go to public firewood. As the pace of work increases it will be critical to find both economic and environmental destinations for the wood removed in order for the project to be realized. Due to the remote nature of the Eastern Sierra, a small fraction of merchantable logs will be of interest to mills in the Carson City area.
What is Whitebark Institute’s role?
In collaboration with the Inyo National Forest (INF), the Eastern Sierra Council of Governments (ESCOG) developed the Eastern Sierra Pace and Scale Accelerator grant aimed at increasing environmental planning capacity in the Eastern Sierra region, in recognition that important projects were not able to move forward in alignment with timelines that were desired. ESCOG selected Whitebark Institute through a competitive bid process as the contractor to work on environmental planning for NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) compliance for this project. Whitebark Institute is working in close collaboration with the INF interdisciplinary team throughout the environmental planning process, to ensure the USFS gets a quality document that aligns with new Land Management Planning priorities. In addition, many local partners have been involved in the pre-planning process, and have provided local knowledge and input regarding the types of treatments needed, economic and environmental considerations, and education needs. These suggestions were shared with the INF to help identify community issues and concerns for consideration in the development of the Proposed Action.
Why can’t prescribed burning be used instead?
Existing conditions within the ESCCRP are unnaturally dense and have high fuel loads. Under these conditions, fire managers have limited ability to safely utilize prescribed fire across the landscape because of the risk to communities, firefighters, and ecosystems. However, fire is an essential longterm maintenance tool and ecological process in these landscapes, and as a result, the ESCCRP has been designed to work in tandem with the forest-wide prescribed fire project, the Eastern Sierra Fire Restoration and Maintenance Project, to provide a suite of forest restoration tools capable of meeting future climate challenges. Once ecological thinning treatments are conducted to reduce fuel loads within the ESCCRP, prescribed fire will be used to maintain treatments and restore natural fire regimes over time, ultimately restoring more resilient historic conditions.