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Protecting the North Yuba landscape with thousands of forest acres thinned and restored in California

Lauren Faulkenberry
Tahoe National Forest
November 18, 2022

Meeting in the forest
Since 2018, partners have been working together to collaboratively plan, analyze, finance, and implement forest restoration across the North Yuba River watershed in Tahoe National Forest. Photo courtesy of Yuba Water Agency

Established in the Sierra Nevada during the Gold Rush of 1849, communities like Downieville and Sierra City in California offer visitors a glimpse back in time and serve as major launchpads for recreation opportunities. Hikers, anglers, and weekend warriors travel from far and wide to enjoy the world-class recreation opportunities afforded to those who frequent the Tahoe National Forest and the Yuba River corridor.

The area includes thousands of acres of forest habitat and is an important source of water to downstream farmers and residents in Yuba County and the Sacramento Valley. While scenic, these and neighboring Sierra gateway communities are surrounded by forest stands that have become overly dense and susceptible to catastrophic wildfire, insects, disease, and drought.

Aerial view of a project site.
Some of the work already completed within the North Yuba Priority Landscape includes 3000 acres of mechanical thinning, which protects the forest ecosystem and surrounding communities from devastating wildfire in and around Tahoe National Forest. Photo courtesy of National Forest Foundation

To address the challenge, the USDA Forest Service and a collaborative group of eight partners within the North Yuba River watershed have been working at an unprecedented scale to plan, analyze and implement what is now the largest “green forest” project in California.

Power of Partnership

“The North Yuba Forest Partnership is an inspiring group of people working toward common goals of ecological restoration and protection of the surrounding communities from catastrophic wildfire,” said Tahoe National Forest Supervisor Eli Ilano. “Everyone is contributing, including substantial funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to accelerate work within the North Yuba landscape.”

The partnership aims to improve forest health on the Tahoe National Forest and reduce wildfire risk to adjacent communities nestled within the 275,000-acre footprint of the North Yuba landscape, which stretches from New Bullards Bar Reservoir east up to the Sierra Crest along Highway 49. The member organizations of the North Yuba Forest Partnership include Sierra County, National Forest Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Yuba Water Agency, Blue Forest Conservation, Camptonville Community Partnership, the Nevada City Rancheria of the Nisenan, South Yuba River Citizens League, and the Tahoe National Forest.

Completed Work in the North Yuba Landscape

Previously completed forest restoration on the North Yuba landscape includes over 1,000 acres of prescribed fire treatment, 3,000 acres of mechanical thinning, 400 acres of Aspen restoration, over 300 acres of meadow restoration, and 30 acres of hazard tree removal in recreational and camping areas.

This work reduced hazardous fuels and protected watershed health within the North Yuba landscape, encouraging ecological resilience. However, more work is needed to further protect communities from wildfire risk and improve forest health on a landscape scale.

North Yuba Landscape Resilience Project Proposal

The North Yuba Landscape Resilience Project proposes a treatment plan for the 275,000 acres of federal land within the watershed. Phase one of the project would treat 32,000 acres of forest surrounding Downieville, California to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire and to begin to restore the watershed to a healthier, more resilient state. Restoration efforts are expected to take many years, with the most critical project areas targeted first. The project is proposed to be completed in stages, providing the community opportunity to voice feedback as landscape conditions may evolve.

This project proposal, incorporating $6.8 million of Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding received to date, is now available for public comment at the Tahoe National Forest website.