California's forests provide innumerable benefits, including clean water and air, recreation, timber, habitat, and beautiful scenery. Approximately one fourth of the state's diverse forests are owned by non-industrial private landowners.

The California Forest Stewardship Program was created to encourage good stewardship of California's private forestland. The program provides technical information and assistance to landowners to promote sound forest management, and assists communities in solving forest-related issues.

The Forest Stewardship Coordinating Committee, made up of representatives of diverse interests, provides direction for the Forest Stewardship Program.

The California Forest Stewardship Coordinating Committee is an advisory body for the California Stewardship Program, which is administered by the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection through the Forest Legacy Program. The committee meets quarterly to learn about forestry issues throughout the state and to make recommendations.

The Forestry and Fuel Management Committee of the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts (CARCD) has taken on the responsibility of the State Forest Stewardship Coordinating Committee. This committee has been active in forest stewardship issues, such as pre-fire fuels management and forest healthy, and represents such diverse interests as the Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and UC Cooperative Extension; consulting foresters; forest products industry; forest landowners, land trusts, conservation and environmental organizations; and local government.

The CARCD website serves as the clearinghouse for all information associated with this committee.

Stewardship Topics

Forests Have an Important Role in Climate Solutions

To understand how forests fit in to the whole issue of climate change we have to step back and look at the global picture. The details may be complicated, but the basic story is easy to comprehend.

The big picture

Our earth is blanketed by a relatively thin atmosphere that contains a number of gases that are vital and necessary to our well-being. Many of these gases trap heat from the sun, creating a greenhouse effect that keeps the earth at a livable temperature. Too much of these insulating gases, however, can trap excess heat, resulting in changes to the earth’s temperature. 

There is not much leeway. Even a very small change in average temperature can cause far-reaching disruptions in the life cycles of plants and animals. 
Carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2), is one of the major greenhouse gases and the main culprit in global climate change.

Follow the carbon

To understand the problem and its possible solutions we have to follow the carbon. Looking at the world through a carbon lens provides an entirely new perspective on forests. 

Carbon moves through the land, atmosphere, and ocean in a complex cycle. 

Trees and other plants withdraw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and turn it into biomass—trunks, leaves, roots, etc. Animals eat the plants and thereby incorporate carbon into their bodies. 

When plants or animals die, or leaves fall, the process is reversed. The biomass decomposes, and the carbon turns into CO2 and goes back into the atmosphere.

To make this just a bit more complicated, trees, along with all living things, also release CO2 through respiration. In order to figure out how much carbon is actually stored in trees we have to look at the net balance between how much carbon is taken in and how much respired.

Young vs. old

Young, fast-growing trees have a rapid rate of carbon sequestration (uptake and storage of carbon from the atmosphere). They take up more carbon than they lose through respiration, resulting in increased biomass. This rate slows as trees age. Mature forests may become carbon neutral, balanced between sequestration and respiration. However, mature forest ecosystems already contain a huge amount of carbon stored in biomass and soil.

Carbon from the past

There have been periods in the past when photosynthesis exceeded respiration and organic material built up forming coal, oil, and natural gas over millions of years—the “fossil fuels.” When these fuels are extracted and burned for energy this previously stored carbon is released. This is the carbon that is largely responsible for the current increase in greenhouse gases driving global climate change.

Where do forests fit in?

Forest carbon is found in five major areas (called pools): above-ground biomass, below-ground biomass, litter, dead wood, and organic carbon in the soil. The way we manage forests affects the dynamics of each pool. 

Forests can take carbon out of the atmosphere, thereby countering some fossil fuel emissions.

This can be done at a low cost and we have the tools necessary—the technology for growing and managing trees is well known.

There are two main parts to the greenhouse gas equation: 1) the release of gases (mostly carbon) into the atmosphere, and 2) the removal of those gases. Most attention to date has been directed toward the first part through efforts to reduce the amount of CO2 released from fossil fuels. The focus on forests is an attempt to increase the second part of the equation: carbon removal and storage.

Forests play a dual role. They are a carbon sink (take up carbon) through photosynthesis but become an emission source (release carbon) when forests are lost and the land converted to other uses. Along with growing healthy forests it is vital to prevent forest loss. Worldwide, about 20% of today’s human-caused global CO2 emissions have been attributed to forest loss.


Fire is an important part of the carbon cycle. Fire consumes organic matter, releasing greenhouse gases including CO2, methane, carbon monoxide, and other materials. Trees and plants not immediately consumed in the fire may be killed and decompose rapidly, releasing CO2. 

Although fire produces carbon emissions, it is also a natural and necessary part of the ecosystem, especially in California where plants are adapted to fire. Rather than eliminate fire, the goal is to maintain historical fire regimes and thus avoid catastrophic fires that occur when fuels build up to unnatural levels.

Biomass to energy

In a win-win for both the forest and the atmosphere, thinning's from overstocked forests can be burned to produce energy. Generating electricity in a biomass plant reduces our demand for fossil fuels while at the same time reducing wildfire hazard. The rising price of electricity is rapidly reaching the point where biomass is more financially feasible, and utilities are looking to biomass as an important part of their renewable energy portfolio. Concern for national energy security is also driving research on cost-effective means to convert wood to ethanol.

Wood products

Wood products are another major carbon pool. A pound of wood contains about a half pound of carbon. Products made out of wood can retain their carbon stores for varying lengths of time, until they decompose or burn. Some products, such as homes, may last for a hundred years while other wood products retain their carbon for much shorter periods. 

Expanding the use of wood products is a climate-friendly strategy since steel, plastic, aluminum, and concrete require much more energy to manufacture and produce much higher greenhouse gas emissions.

Should we care? 

The earth as a whole is warming. But the term global warming isn’t quite accurate. Not all areas will get warmer. Some will be colder, some will be wetter or drier, there may be more storms, or more intense weather events. While no one knows exactly what will occur where, climate change is now well-acknowledged as a threat to our economy, environment, and health. 
In California, predicted effects include reduction in the Sierra snowpack, reduced water quantity and quality, sea level rise, coastal erosion, increases in infectious diseases and other health problems, and changes in natural ecosystems including forests.

How can we increase carbon sequestration in forests?

The management practices used to increase forest carbon sequestration are the same ones that promote good forest health. The goal is to encourage trees to grow and thrive, to get bigger faster, and to reduce the risk of wildfire. 

There are three main strategies for forest mitigation of climate change:
1. Conserve existing forests in a healthy condition through proper management,
2. Increase carbon sequestration by planting trees or other forest management techniques that increase biomass,
3. Increase the use of wood products and substitute wood for materials that require energy-intensive production. 

 More Information

New Opportunities in Forestry


Community forests are common throughout the U.S. and world, but rare in California. This is in the process of changing, however, as a number of rural communities develop new and creative models to participate in their local forests. 

But what exactly is a community forest? That’s a good question and not easily answered. Scores of definitions exist. One of the best and most comprehensive states: “Community-based forestry is a participatory approach to forest management that strengthens communities’ capacity to build vibrant local economies, while protecting and enhancing their local forest ecosystems. By integrating ecological, social, and economic components into cohesive approaches to forestry issues, community-based approaches give local residents both the opportunity and the responsibility to manage their natural resources effectively and to enjoy the benefits of that responsibility (Aspen Institute).”

Although community forestry is difficult to define, the Forest Guild has identified some important characteristics:

  • Community forestry begins with protecting and restoring the forest.
  • Residents have access to the land and its resources, and participate in land management decisions.
  • Resource managers engage the knowledge of those living closest to the land in developing relationships with the forest.
  • Forestry is used as a tool to benefit and strengthen communities.
  • Cultural values, historic use, resource health, and community economic development needs are considered in management decisions.
  • Decisionmaking is open, transparent, and inclusive.

These characteristics speak to the underlying goals and values inherent in community forests, which work to provide a sustainable resource base for those living nearby. The focus is on economic stability for the community, as well as aesthetic, cultural, and environmental values. Since local issues and participants vary, each community forest will, by necessity, be unique. 

Communities in forested areas are intimately connected with—and dependent on—the local natural resources for their economic and social well-being. Most are suffering from the current recession and poor timber market. In addition, fire safety issues affect everyone. No matter the ownership, communities have a stake in how their local forests are managed. The idea of a community forest, however it is defined or designed, is one way for the community to have a voice in this management. 

There are a number of tools that can support community forests. Stewardship contracting, which allows community groups to enter into contracts with the Forest Service and BLM to accomplish projects on public lands, has been used effectively by a number of community forest groups. There are publications and websites that offer guidance for starting a community forest, and document successes all over the world.

 Community Forestry

Acquiring and Managing A Community-Owned Forest: A Manual for Communities

This manual offers step-by-step instructions to help communities create their own community forest, from assessing the potential for a community forest to organizing the process. It also presents examples from community forests throughout the country.

Resources for Financing a Community Forest

National Community Forestry Service Center (NCFSC) wants to accelerate the national movement toward local ownership and management of forestland in the U.S.

Hardwoods Need Our Protection

We Californians love our oaks. Oak woodlands include some of the most beautiful forestlands in the state. There are 20 species of native oaks found throughout California on approximately 20 million acres in widely different areas: the central valley, lower foothills, mixed coniferous zone and coastal mountains. 

Not only are oak woodlands beautiful, they are surprisingly productive communities. More than 330 species of animals use oak habitats for some part of the year. Oaks are found in extremely diverse habitats; about 50 habitat types have been identified.

As with almost all natural habitats in California, oak woodlands currently face a number of threats and uncertainties. These include concerns about poor regeneration, competition from invasive species, native and introduced pests, habitat loss, changes in land use, threats from fire, and climate changes.

Rule #1: Protect the Roots

Young oaks are more flexible than older ones. While young oaks can generally adapt and survive under a variety of conditions, mature oaks are extremely sensitive to change and can be weakened or killed by any number of activities.

This is because of their elaborate root system, developed over decades, that transports moisture and nutrients and provides structural support for the growing tree. Any activity that damages the roots can compromise a mature tree.

The root system begins in the acorn. Most of an acorn’s energy goes into the fast-growing tap root that probes deep underground to seek reliable moisture. Tap root growth continues for the first few years after which the tree’s resources can finally go into above-ground and leaf growth.
Lateral roots have a different job. They spread out horizontally in the top 2 or 3 feet of soil and provide structural support for the tree. They also have fine roots that absorb moisture and nutrients. As the oak matures, it sends out deep vertical roots from the laterals which find deeper soil moisture as well as add stability.

With all of these roots in place the mature oak becomes quite set in its ways. Any activity (e.g., grading, filling, trenching, paving) that removes roots, compacts the soil, or changes moisture availability may affect the permeability of the soil and the tree’s ability to exchange gas and moisture, and thus harm the tree. Poor drainage can smother roots and promote fungi that cause crown and root rot.

When choosing species to plant near oaks, remember that oaks are adapted to California’s hot dry summers and cannot tolerate excess moisture during the dry season. Plant only drought-tolerant plants that require no summer water, and even those should be no closer than 6 feet from the base of the tree. Do not plant any vegetation that needs summer irrigation—those plants have thick roots that can inhibit the oak’s air and water exchange. Any irrigation should be done outside of the Root Protection Zone (RPZ), an area about 1.5 times larger than the dripline.
Many of the precautions to protect oaks are actually ways to protect the root system. Keep this in mind as you make decisions to care for your property and trees.


Publications for Private Forestland Owners

Forests in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade Range are being stressed by many factors that put them at risk. High-severity wildfire, drought stress, insect outbreaks, disease, and a backdrop of changing climate are a few. A significant portion of Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades forests are owned and managed as small parcels (10 to 100 acres) by nonindustrial private landowners. The Forest Management Handbook for Small Parcel Landowners is designed to help landowners determine what, if any, management actions need to be done, and how to obtain technical and financial support to manage private forestland.

Full Handbook (PDF)

HaExternal LinkHandbook: Summary Version (PDF)

Handbook: Overview (PDF)

To obtain a hard copy of the publication, please contact a Forestry Assistant Specialist in your County.

The Forestland Steward is a collaborative publication between CAL FIRE, Placer RCD, UC Cooperative Extension, and the US Forest Service. The newsletter is published three times a year and offers private forest landowners throughout the state helpful and relevant information for managing their land. With up-to-date policy information, agency input, and science-driven management recommendations, the newsletter strives to provide landowners with all the facts (and some fun, too!) to create a healthy and sustainable landscape. 

Forestland Steward Newsletter

This publication presents some key considerations and insights into selecting the appropriate permit to facilitate fuel-reduction projects on private lands—and offers insights into permitting larger fuel projects that involve multiple owners or multiple funding sources. The publication is organized around projects that take place before or after wildfires. It is intended for foresters, private owners of both small and large parcels of land, natural-resource professionals, and project developers. The publication includes decision trees to help landowners and resource managers crosswalk projects to permits.

Planning and Permitting Forest Fuel-Reduction Projects on Private Lands in California

Wildfire Resilience Block Grants

Solicitation opening January 29, 2024. Please review guidelines below for more information.

2024 Wildfire Resilience Block Grant Guidelines

Apply for the 2024 Wildfire Resilience Block Grant through eCivis:  Click Here.

The purpose of the block grant is to allow prospective grantees the ability to provide a program of financial and technical forestry assistance to nonindustrial forest landowners, where the grantee serves as the supervising entity, receives the grant from CAL FIRE and then provides outreach and/or technical/financial assistance to landowners so they can conduct forest restoration or management activities on their property.

  • CAL FIRE's Wildfire Resilience team seeks to maintain and enhance the resilience of California’s small non-industrial private forestland owners to promote healthy resilient forests throughout the state by supporting a diverse set of projects designed to interact with landowners.
  • Depending on the grant objectives, grants can prove the following:
    • Funding of forest improvement practices including but not limited to tree and brush thinning, tree release, pruning, site preparation and tree planting, follow up work to support tree growth, and/or slash disposal.
    • Technical assistance

This program remains dependent on special funds.

A Collaborative Effort

The California Forest Stewardship Program is a collaborative project of the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and USDA Forest Service. The Placer Resource Conservation District (RCD), UC Cooperative Extension Forestry, Northern California Society for American Foresters, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and many other organizations and agencies are partners in projects and programs sponsored and supported by the California Stewardship Program.

Meghan Reeves

Stewardship Forester
(707) 888-7331

Cordi Craig

Placer Resource Conservation District
(530) 390-6680