Ecological Restoration and Partnerships—Our California Story

National Forests play a critical role in the lives of Californians. We represent 20 million acres or approximately one-fifth of California's landscape. As the nation's most populous state, California is home to over 37 million people and has the fourth largest economy in the world. We work with our partners in California including government and private organizations to sustain the almost 33 million acres of forest land within the state. Thirty-three million people visit the National Forests of California for recreation, making California a global destination, generating 38,000 outdoor recreation-related jobs. We produce about 350 million board feet of wood products annually. These products, which include $100 million in market value for saw timber and $40 million in market value for the resulting electricity produced from the biomass on National Forests (at 10 cents per kilowatt) results in nearly $140 million total in market value. The industries that provide these products create jobs for about 2,000 private sector workers. Other contributions to Californians include benefits to people's physical, mental and spiritual well-being provided by clean air and water, world-class recreational opportunities and scenery, and habitats essential to the diversity of animal and plant species throughout the state.

The many facets of the National Forests play a large role in California's economy. We provide approximately 50% of the state's water supply, which is estimated to be worth about $9.5 billion annually. These forests provide a source of safe, clean water to Californians. This water helps to support a thriving world-renowned agricultural economy that is the world's fifth largest supplier of food and commodities with a value of $37.5 billion in 2010. In addition, it supports industries from Silicon Valley to the Entertainment Industry in Southern California. Hydroelectric power utilities on National Forests, supported by water from these same lands, produce nearly 16 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year with a value of over $1.6 billion (at 10 cents per kilowatt).

The single biggest threat to these incredible benefits is catastrophic wildfire. Over the last decade, an average of over 400,000 acres burned annually in California. The Forest Service spends about $200 million per year to suppress 98% of these fires and up to $1 billion to suppress the other 2% of fires that escape initial attack and become large catastrophic fires. The annual value of water and timber resources and recreational use on National Forests in California add up to approximately $13 billion for which we receive approximately $500 million per year in congressionally appropriated dollars to manage the multiple benefits derived from these assets.

We estimate that six to nine million acres of the National Forest System Lands need treatment to increase their resilience to the impacts of disturbances such as wildfire, climate change, invasive species and human population growth. We are treating approximately 200,000 acres per year. Even at this aggressive rate of treatment, it would take 30 to 45 years to treat the number of acres needed to make the difference in restoration of National Forests. In a natural ecosystem, fire returns on a regular basis. When fire is excluded from that natural process, as is the case for 70% of the Region, the resulting fuel buildup can increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires before we can treat those acres either with mechanical thinning or controlled burns.

In order to achieve our Ecological Restoration goals, the Forest Service will need to increase the amount of acres restored from 200,000 acres a year to approximately 500,000 acres per year. We will need an increase of at least $300 million a year of investment to accomplish this goal, but the additional investment potentially saves $800 million annually in direct cost avoidance in suppressing fires. The value of resources protected, including water, property and wildlife habitat, would be in the billions. Existing relationships and future partnerships with other federal, state, local and tribal agencies are crucial to increasing the pace and scale of our restoration efforts.

Our work and contributions to California's great outdoors extends beyond the National Forests. In fiscal year 2010, in addition to the money used to manage water, timber and recreational use, we provided over $19,500,000 of congressionally appropriated funds to the State of California and other private and local government entities to improve and maintain the health of the State's urban and rural forests and related economies. These funds were matched by California and some of our other partners to help us accomplish forest-related work across multiple ownership boundaries. The important work occurring across private forest lands and within communities is a critical link to the restoration work occurring on the National Forests. Working collaboratively to accomplish mutual goals can have tremendous positive benefits.

We continue to seek partners who can join with us to restore the state's forests and ensure future generations of Californians continue to benefit from clean water, abundant wildlife habitat and resilient forests able to sustain communities and families. Our youth are the recipients of the bounty produced by our restoration efforts today. It is essential we continue to engage this generation to participate and partner with us in our efforts to restore resilience and longevity to our nation's forests. Only with the participation of the public can we truly manage and protect these invaluable resources.