Why California needs more smart forestry

Novato Fire District firefighter Kyle Marshall sprays a hot spot in Big Sur in July 2016.
Novato Fire District firefighter Kyle Marshall sprays a hot spot in Big Sur in July 2016. AP file

In the midst of another record-breaking wildfire season, it’s important that we understand that sustainable management of our forests can protect communities and some of California’s most precious resources.


It’s no secret that our forests are in crisis. They are unnaturally overcrowded and competing for resources. When combined with a prolonged drought, our forests are at an increased risk of catastrophic wildfires that degrade wildlife habitat and watersheds, emit tons of greenhouse gases and stunt rural economies.

Healthy forests are essential. They provide us with clean air by storing carbon and giving off clean oxygen to breathe. However, an average wildfire season produces two-thirds of all California’s black carbon emissions, which leads to asthma, cardiovascular and lung disease and even cancers. Two-thirds of California’s water supply comes from forested watersheds, but during wildfires they fill with debris and sediment.

That’s why professional foresters manage our resources to benefit both our environment and economy. Sustainable forest management is based on sound science. It thins out small, unhealthy trees, leaving behind larger, stronger ones that can better withstand fire, insects and disease. It also reduces fuel for fires, creates breaks to help firefighters and provides a safe exit for residents.

A recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that management techniques, including prescribed fire and mechanical thinning, can help rebuild resilient forests. They also support private landowners who have been sustainably managing their lands for years, working with various state agencies on environmental review of timber harvest plans, the most stringent in the world. I’m proud to say that our private landowners often go beyond what is required.

At the same time, forest managers work with our federal partners to increase the pace and scale of forest management. For every tree harvested, five more are planted in its place to ensure that we have healthy forests for generations to come.

As stewards of the land, professional foresters agree with diverse voices that to save our forests; we must manage them or risk watching them go up in smoke.

Richard B. Standiford is a UC Berkeley Cooperative Extension forest management specialist emeritus. He can be contacted at