Restoring California's National Forests


About 80 percent of our nation's scarce freshwater resources originate on America's forests, which cover about one third of our nation's land area.

Ecological restoration results will increase benefits to citizens in the form of improved delivery of clean water, recreation, and biodiversity from our National Forests.

California Forests Threatened

Call to Action

California's forests and grasslands face serious threats from natural and human-caused stresses. Foremost threats are climate change, disturbed and altered natural systems, increases in non-native invasive species, and impacts from an expanding human population.

Over the last 75 years, climate change has resulted in many visible changes in ecological patterns and processes, changing trends in water and fire throughout California that include:

  • precipitation remaining steady or increasing, trending strongly toward more rain than snow, with average annual snowpack depths decreasing,
  • peak stream flow shifting to earlier in the season by three or more weeks, with lower low flows and higher high flows,
  • fire frequency, size, severity and total annual burned areas rising; mostly in low to middle elevation conifers.

Climate Change Impacts

Accumulating evidence shows that a warming climate is increasing chances for extreme events like floods, droughts, heat waves and downpours. Longer and more intense heat waves and less intense cold temperatures are occurring, and the vast majority of scientific models project these patterns will intensify throughout this century. These patterns alter the frequency, intensity and timing of events such as fires, heavy precipitation and insect infestations.

Science indicates that the geographic distributions of many plant and animal species in California are changing (moving uphill or to cooler locations) and the interaction between rising temperatures and more profound summer drought is stressing watersheds.

Critical benefits we receive from California forests are threatened by climate change. These include provisioning services such as water, wood and wild foods; regulating services such as erosion, flood and climate control; and cultural services such as outdoor recreation, spiritual renewal and aesthetic enjoyment. The Forest Service is weaving climate change responses into policies, processes and partnerships nationwide.

Effects on Water Supply

Climate change is expected to intensify issues of freshwater scarcity and conflict. California's National Forests are vital in protecting and sustaining the state's watersheds to ensure that surface water supplies meet the needs of present and future generations.

Where California Gets Half of its Water

From your forests to your glass.With fifty percent of California's water originating on National Forest lands, water and watersheds valued at more than 9.5 billion dollars are among the most valuable ecosystem services California's National Forest lands deliver.

Healthy forest watersheds capture, cool and store water; naturally regulate seasonal stream flows; enhance water quality; reduce flood and storm damage; control erosion; replenish ground water; and provide habitat for plants and animals. When forests are healthy, they resist and recover quickly from floods, fire, insect outbreaks and other extreme events.

California's National Forest's water supply sustains the state's thriving agricultural economy—the world's fifth largest supplier of food and commodities, valued at $37.5 billion. Water from National Forests produces 16 billion kilowatt hours of renewable hydroelectric power, valued at $1.6 billion.

Restoring California's Forests

The Restoration Mission

Restoring, enhancing and maintaining the health of our nation's forests benefits the environment and creates jobs in rural communities. Increasing the pace and scale of restoring forests is critically needed to address fire, climate change, bark beetle infestation and other threats—for the health of our forest ecosystems, watersheds and forest-dependent communities.

The Forest Service is committed to implementing and facilitating restoration work on our National Forests and Grasslands. We are committed to including state, tribal, and private lands, working with partners in what we call an "all-lands" approach.

Building Watershed Resiliency

Water: the Essence of Life

Map of average annual precipitation in Calfornia from 0 to 50 or more inches with forest boundaries.The cost of restoring California's National Forest watersheds is about $300 million a year—a good investment considering restoration ensures the continued flow of water valued at $9.5 billion per year to downstream users.

The diverse restoration work needed to build healthy, resilient watersheds includes:

  • Restoring meadows, wetlands and floodplains to improve natural storage, reduce flood hazards, prolong seasonal flows, while moderating changes in stream temperature to improve aquatic and terrestrial habitat,
  • Removing migration barriers and reestablishing habitat connections to help species adapt to changing conditions,
  • Reducing flood and wildfire risks in vulnerable watersheds to prevent erosion and maintain clean water supplies,
  • Improving or decommissioning of roads to reduce erosion during adverse weather events.