Forest Stewardship Program
Encouraging good stewardship of California's private forestland
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.
What Can we do with Excess Wood?
Woody biomass utilization—ways to use the excess woody material from the forest—is a major issue today for a number of reasons. Economic reasons: A market for biomass can help pay for forest treatments or provide income for landowners. Environmental reasons: Overly dense forests may create suboptimal habitat for many species and has the potential to go up in a catastrophic fire. Energy reasons: Biomass is a form of stored energy that can be considered carbon neutral (with caveats). This has implications for climate change, as well as for our dependence on foreign oil.
However, there are still many aspects of biomass utilization to be resolved. Although there may be excess biomass in the forest, utilization facilities are often too far away to be economically feasible. Many of the promises of biomass energy are still in the research stages; sophisticated wood to fuel technology is not yet viable. And in many cases the public is wary about constructing new facilities, and about the impacts of biomass removal on the forest ecosystem.
Finding ways to use the excess biomass in our forests has many benefits: it could help mitigate climate change, improve the health of our forests, decrease fire risk, provide income to forest landowners, create jobs, and obviate some of the need for fossil and foreign fuels.
This is an exciting topic for forest landowners and managers. Follow the discussion and new developments through the resources to the right.
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 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.
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.
Preserving the Forest in Perpetuity
What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement with a nonprofit land trust or government agency that allows a landowner to limit the type or amount of development on their property while retaining private ownership of the land. When completed, the conservation easement becomes part of the property deed. A way to visualize this is to think of owning land as holding a bundle of sticks. Each stick represents the landowner's right to do something with their property—the right to build a house, to extract minerals, to harvest timber, allow hunting, etc. A landowner may give up certain rights, or sticks from the bundle, associated with their property through a document: the conservation easement.
How does it work?
Conservation easements are tailored to the needs of the landowner and the recipient organization (which must be a qualified nonprofit organization or government agency). The recipient agrees to hold, but not use, the transferred rights. A landowner may either donate the conservation easement or sell it for partial or full appraised value. The terms of each conservation easement are negotiated by the landowner and the recipient organization.
Who owns and manages easement protected land?
The landowner retains full rights to control and manage their property within the limits of the easement. The landowner continues to bear all costs and liabilities related to ownership and maintenance of the property. The organization that owns the easement will monitor the property to ensure compliance with the easement's terms, but has no other management responsibilities and exercises no direct control over other activities on the land.
Why do people grant conservation easements?
People grant conservation easements because they want to protect their property from future unwanted development and damaging land uses, while retaining ownership of their land. By granting a conservation easement, a landowner can assure that the property will be protected forever, regardless of who owns it in the future. An additional benefit is that the donation of an easement may provide significant financial advantages.
What kind of financial advantages result from donating an easement?
Many landowners receive a federal income tax deduction for the gift of a conservation easement. The Internal Revenue Service allows a deduction if the easement is perpetual, is donated “exclusively for conservation purposes” and meets certain criteria for those conservation purposes. The amount of the tax deduction is determined by the value of the conservation easement. In addition, the landowner may have estate and property tax relief because the value of the property is reduced.
What activities are allowed on land protected by an easement?
The activities allowed depend on the landowner's wishes and the terms of the easement. In some cases, no further development is allowed on the land. In others, some additional development is allowed, but the amount and type is restricted. Conservation easements may be designed to cover all or only a portion of a property, and specific restrictions can vary for different parts of the property. Every easement is unique, tailored to each landowner's goals and land characteristics.
Can the landowner still sell or give the property away?
The landowner continues to own the property after executing an easement. Therefore, the owner can sell, give, or lease the property as before. However, all future owners assume ownership of the property subject to the conditions of the easement.
Does the public have a right of access to easement-protected property?
Not unless the landowner who grants the easement specifically allows it. Most easement donors do not want, and therefore do not allow, public access to their property.
How long does an easement last and who upholds it in the future?
To be eligible for a federal income tax deduction the easement must be "perpetual," that is, it must last forever. The property is monitored by the land trust or government agency selected by the landowner as the easement grantee to assure that the easement is not being violated. If the easement has been breached, steps must be taken to uphold the terms of the easement. Land trusts typically require the landowner to make a financial contribution (also tax deductible) to cover long-term management costs.
Does the easement have to cover all of the landowner's property?
No, some easements only cover a portion of the property. Again, it depends on the landowner's wishes. For example, if someone owns 80 acres, of which 35 acres are wetlands, the landowner may decide to restrict development only on these 35 acres. The remaining 45 acres would not be affected by the easement.
What kind of land can be protected by conservation easements?
IRS regulations require that the property have "significant" conservation values. This includes forests, wetlands, endangered species habitat, scenic areas and more.
Not Your Everyday Garden Weed
Invasive species are more than just garden pests. They can profoundly affect, and irreversibly damage, natural habitats.
They do this in a number of ways. Some species exclude native plants by being better competitors—they are more aggressive, can get in first, and multiply quickly. Some have toxins that adversely affect other plants. Others actually change the chemistry of the soil, making it less hospitable to natives.
In addition, invasive species may increase flammability of the landscape, increasing fire frequency and severity of fires.
When the plant community changes, wildlife may be harmed as well. Many noxious weeds are unpalatable or even toxic to native animal species. When the habitat becomes intolerable, wildlife must move or die. Livestock and croplands also can be seriously impacted by invasives, causing significant economic losses.
Invasive species are a tremendous problem for all these reasons. So what can we do to control them? It’s a complex issue but there is quite a bit that can be done, by both individuals and communities.
Invasive species come from all over the world. About half of the invasive species in California were introduced intentionally—as ornamentals, erosion control, or for other reasons. Others came in accidentally, through contaminated crop seed, on machinery, and numerous other routes.
While the vast majority of exotic plants stay in their gardens or are otherwise benign in the environment, a small number, perhaps 10%, escape and become pests.
Without their native controls, such as diseases and predators, these plants can quickly wreak havoc on the environment.
Each pest species has a unique story, which includes its life history, effects on the environment, tolerance to various climate regimes, etc. Effective control must be individualized based on knowledge of the pest plant.
Using integrated weed management techniques, you can learn to manage invasive species on your property.
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.
Know Your Pests
Forest pests are an eclectic group. Tree “diseases” can be caused by fungi, bacteria, parasitic plants, insects, mammals, smog, chemicals, extreme temperatures, and other harmful agents.
Not all pests are villains
Most biologically caused diseases are a natural and essential part of a healthy forest. Insects, fungi, and bacteria all break down and decompose organic matter, releasing nutrients and creating soil humus. Insects are an important food source for wildlife, they pollinate forest plants and trees, and predator insects are critical to keep harmful insects under control.
What we consider disease is a disturbance in the normal functions of a tree. When this disturbance occurs sporadically it goes undetected. When it occurs over large continuous areas it may indicate a problem that should be addressed.
Boom and bust
Insect populations can quickly build into a devastating force. There is a natural boom-and-bust cycle for many populations. Population outbreaks are followed by a crash when the insects consume all available food, are weakened by disease, or devastated by natural enemies.
Insects actually destroy more timber annually than wildfire. However, they usually take their toll on individual or small groups of trees here and there, unlike the spectacular destruction of forest fires.
While insects may be the identifiable cause of tree injury and death, the ultimate cause is often poor tree condition due to drought or excessive competition for water, light, and nutrients; excessive water; or physical damage to the tree. Trees are constantly challenged by insects but generally only stressed or unhealthy trees succumb.
Trees are not as helpless against insect attack as one would expect. A healthy tree is able to defend itself from insect attack by producing pitch that drowns, or pitches out, the attackers. If you see pitch streamers, tubes, or granules, that is evidence that the tree is still alive and fighting.
Trees under stress, and those that are older or unhealthy, are more apt to succumb to insect attack. If there are numerous insect attacks with no evidence of pitch or resin, the tree is most likely dying. To be sure, look for beetle larvae under the bark at the site of an attack with no resin flow.
Bark Beetles and Engravers
Bark beetles and engravers are the most serious insect pests in California. They bore through the bark of most pine and fir species. These insects generally attack stressed or weakened trees.
They often work together: engravers may attack first, weakening a tree, followed by bark beetles which can kill the tree.
General reddening of the foliage in the tops of pine and fir trees is the most noticeable sign of successful bark beetle and engraver attack.
Insects that attack foliage can cause stress or even death by hindering photosynthesis. Most trees can tolerate partial defoliation, though this may make them more susceptible to bark beetle attack. Repeated or total defoliation can kill the tree outright.
Foliage insects can be found while they are feeding. Look for damaged leaves and needles. Egg masses, usually small pouches of webs attached to protected spots on the bark or under branches and leaves, are easily detected. Insects also affect twigs, buds, cones, and roots. Look for a decline in tree vigor or damage to the specific part.
Fungi: rots, rust, and root disease
Heart rots are the leading cause of wood decay. Look for large, shelf-like mushrooms (conks), on tree trunk or for mushrooms in the soil around the trunk. These are the fruiting bodies of fungi. When you tap on the tree a hollow sound indicates heart rot.
The fungi that cause the rot enter the tree through logging wounds, animal damage, or any injury that opens the inner part of the tree. Preventing injury is the most effective form of control.
The presence of conks indicates significant deterioration inside a tree which could cause it to be structurally unsound. Remove any trees that could fall on people or structures. In the forest, trees with conks should be left to become snags.
Rusts enter the tree through the needles. Rusts require an alternate host plant for the disease to complete its life cycle. Spores can travel hundreds of miles on the wind so the alternate host could be far away.
The most destructive rust in California is the white pine blister rust that infects sugar pine and others in the 5-needle pine group. Symptoms are random flagging (dead, brown-needled branches) in tree crowns. Close examination of these branches show a spindlelike swelling of the branch filled with orange spores. The alternate host for white pine blister rust is currant or gooseberry. Control was attempted by eradicating the alternate host, however, this proved ineffective.
Root diseases usually affect the whole tree uniformly. If tree leaves or needles are yellowing, dying, or falling for no apparent reason, root problems are usually the cause (but other causes such as mechanical damage to the roots, saturated soils, and foliage insects or rusts should also be considered).
Root diseases, which spread from tree to tree by root contact, are difficult to detect and even more difficult to control. Look for fruiting bodies (mushrooms) on and around the base of the tree. Bark beetles often successfully attack trees weakened by root disease.
Disease centers, in which a group of trees die, are another good indicator of root disease. Trees adjacent to dead trees are often infected though they do not show symptoms until the next year, when moisture stress finally browns the leaves.
Control root diseases by keeping the stand healthy. Salvage all the affected and surrounding trees because the disease may have spread through root contact.
Some root diseases become established when fungus spores land on and colonize a freshly cut stump. One particularly serious root disease, Heterobasidion annosum, can be prevented by powdering freshly cut stumps with borax, sodium borate. Another control method is to replant diseased stands with a different tree species. Root diseases are typically species specific, affecting only one tree species. Harvesting the affected trees and planting another species could eliminate the disease problem.
Sudden Oak Death is caused by the fungus Phytophthora ramorum. Bleeding or oozing of a dark reddish-brown thick sap is the first symptom to appear on true oaks and tanoak.
Be familiar with your forest and notice any changes. If you see some suspicious activity—dead or dying trees, insect outbreak, mushrooms, etc.—you’ll want to figure out what is going on.
Collect specimens or take pictures of any potential problems. Diseases may be difficult to identify until they have damaged a tree to an obvious extent. Determine the part of the plant that is affected, any patterns to the damage, etc. If the cause of the disease is not readily apparent, start with the simplest possibilities: animal damage, frost, mechanical injuries, fire.
Generally, the best defense against insects and diseases is to maintain healthy trees.
Chemical or other insect control measures are expensive and often ineffective. While individual trees might be protected with insecticide treatments, only landscape trees are probably worth the cost and effort.
One approach to controlling forest pests is known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a strategy that considers the whole ecosystem. It focuses on long-term reduction of pest damage through a combination of techniques including biological control, habitat modification, changes in cultural practices, and resistant varieties.
With IPM, pesticides are used only after monitoring indicates they are needed according to established guidelines. Pest control materials are selected and applied to minimize risks to human health, beneficial and non-target organisms, and the environment. Treatments are chosen and timed to be most effective and least disruptive to natural pest controls.
IPM requires constant monitoring to determine whether a pest problem exists, and if the problem is intolerable enough to require treatment. In many cases the “no treatment” option is found to be the preferred, most cost-effective approach.
Learn about insects and other potential pests found in your area. Talk to your forester or a specialist at UC Cooperative Extension or CAL FIRE (see list on page 10). Developing strategies to prevent the occurrence or limit the effects of forest pests can be an exciting management challenge.
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.
Forest Stewardship Program: