Implementing the Agreement for Shared Stewardship of California’s Forest and Rangelands

January 2021


California’s forests provide a multitude of benefits such as water supply and quality, ecosystem health, and carbon sequestration. However, historical management practices have contributed to thick stands of forests that are explosive tinder in the event of a wildfire. Not only are our state’s headwaters and communities increasingly threatened by these fires, but they face other challenges like drought and insect infestation.

In August 2020, the Governor and the U.S. Forest Service signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to cooperatively manage 1 million acres of forest and rangelands in California annually.

This MOU establishes a joint framework to enhance science-based forest and rangeland stewardship in California. The U.S. Forest Service and the State of California commit to maintain and restore healthy forests and rangelands to reduce public safety risks, protect natural and built infrastructure, and enhance ecological habitat and biological diversity.

Principles for Successful Implementation

CMUA and its member agencies believe the MOU is a positive and aspirational step forward in dealing with catastrophic wildfire threats to communities and watersheds throughout the state. CMUA member agencies want to help the state and federal government successfully implement the MOU in the coming years by focusing resources in the most efficient manner possible. The following three principals can be cornerstones of successful implementation:
  1. Mitigating wildfires through pre-fire work reduces the long-term cost of catastrophic fire to the ecosystem, communities, and watersheds.
  2. Local government entities throughout California understand where the greatest pre-fire treatment needs are located to protect communities and watersheds.
  3. Implementing pre-fire stewardship projects at the local level is an established and efficient model for success throughout California.

Innovative Approaches

Several water agencies and counties have taken proactive steps to establish partnerships with a variety of stakeholders and implement innovative projects designed to improve the health of our forests and upper watersheds as well as protect local communities from catastrophic wildfire. These efforts include the Yuba Water Agency’s North Yuba Forest Partnership and Placer County Water Agency’s and Placer County’s French Meadows Project. These local agency-led projects are a model for expanding the pace and scale of forest management on state, federal and private lands.

CMUA and its member agencies believe it is imperative to utilize county-level government as a conduit of funds from the state of California to on-the-ground projects led by local fire departments, municipalities or other special districts. In the Yuba and Placer forest management pilot projects, county-level government acts as the accumulator of funds from local, state, and federal sources; lead agency for state environmental processes; holder of master stewardship agreements for federal lands; and contracting agent for all local, private sector contractors performing on-the-ground safety and watershed management work. These projects have developed efficient funding, contract management, and reporting models that can easily be replicated in all California counties given adequate funding for internal capacity building.

CMUA members also believe it is imperative to change the granting process to pre-fund work that can be implemented at the county level. The existing process that reimburses grantees after work is performed is a significant barrier to entry for disadvantaged communities and rural counties throughout California and will significantly stall progress on the Governor’s goals.

CMUA applauds the Newsom Administration and the U.S. Forest Service for announcing in August 2020 the joint state-federal initiative to reduce wildfire risks, restore watersheds, protect habitat and biological diversity, and help the state meet its climate objectives.

The approach CMUA is proposing will yield significant local jobs, build vital capacity in the forestry and biomass utilization industries, and make California counties essential partners in meeting the Governor’s goals.

CMUA recommends that California dedicate additional financial and technical resources at the state level to implement programs to begin treatment of three or more watersheds within five years, including lands that are privately-owned, and help preserve our future water supply reliability and water quality.