Since the 1970’s, the California legislature requires CALFIRE’s Fire and Resource Assessment Program (FRAP) to produce periodic assessments of the forests and rangelands of California. The most recent of these was the California’s Forests and Rangelands: 2017. The 2017 Assessment covers a broad range of topics across both private and public lands. Each chapter includes a number of indicators that collectively are used to evaluate the sustainability of forest and range lands, and the whole report is available for download here.

For the past three years, SIG associate Dr. Richard Harris has been working with CALFIRE’s Fire and Resource Assessment Program to prepare these assessments. The most recent report completed by SIG/Dr. Harris is on sustainable working forests.  This report, which forms a chapter of the larger 2017 assessment report presents information on timber and other forest resources, forest management, development impacts on forests, and the forest products industry.

Key findings from this chapter include: modeled scenarios show that there is a projected loss of between .6 (3%) and 1.4 million acres (8%) of timberland under the warmer/wetter and hotter/drier climate change scenarios, conservation easements are an increasingly effective tool for preserving timberlands with important environmental or social values, and for protecting working forests from conversion or being subdivided, to achieve their stated goals, the U.S. Forest Service would need to find the resources to increase ecological restoration activities from the current 200,000 acres a year to approximately 500,000 acres per year, and there has been a steady significant decline in total acres harvested over the 1997–2015 period.

The assessment also found that as part of California’s “cap and trade” program, the Air Resources Board had issued carbon offsets for Compliance forest projects in California on about 207,000 acres, which is important and good news for climate change mitigation planners, and federal and state programs continue to be important sources of technical and financial assistance to small landowners for their forest management planning and activities.

Such third-party certification of forests, rangelands, and ecosystem services is transparent, and a huge step forward for natural resource management, and is a trend that will hopefully be picked up by more states, and countries, in the future.