Placer County authorizes start date for French Meadows Forest Restoration Project

Published May 15, 2019

A forest health project to reduce wildfire risk in Placer County is scheduled to start in June as the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to authorize the county to perform work on federal land for the multi-agency partnership French Meadows Forest Restoration Project.  

With the approval, Placer County will take the lead on hiring and overseeing contractors to execute tree removal, forest thinning and biomass removal.

“Forest health and wildfire prevention are critical to our region,” said District 5 Supervisor Cindy Gustafson. “This innovative partnership will not only ensure the long-term sustainability of French Meadows, but will serve as a model for future projects seeking to ensure the resiliency of our forestland.” 

Covering 22,000 acres of public land and 6,000 acres of conservancy land around French Meadows Reservoir west of Lake Tahoe, this public-private partnership, participants hope, can serve as a model for increasing the pace and scale of ecologically-based forest management and fuels reduction throughout the Sierra Nevada.

The project specifically involves clearing underbrush, thinning smaller trees, removing biomass to renewable energy facilities, reforestation and restoring meadows. The goals are to promote forest resilience to stressors such as wildfire, insect and disease outbreaks and climate change.

Funding was secured through a variety of sources including Placer County and Placer County Water Agency through the Middle Fork Project, the U.S. Forest Service, state grant funding from CAL FIRE and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, as well as private donors through the Nature Conservancy.

Under the project memorandum of understanding, Placer County will lead on hiring and overseeing contractors to execute tree removal, forest thinning and biomass removal. The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Service are working together to implement a prescribed burn plan. The Sierra Nevada Research Institute is leading research to better understand and quantify the project’s potential forest health and water supply benefits.

Protecting and restoring habitat for fish and wildlife is also a top priority with the aim of safeguarding the water supply and resources. A research aspect of the project is looking at how forest thinning could produce a larger amount of water with higher quality from the same watershed.

With limited U.S. Forest Service resources already engaged on other forest resiliency projects in the American River watershed, a diverse group of partners worked to design, manage and fund the project in close partnership with the Forest Service, which has responsibility for the land the project will address.  

Key partners include:

•    U.S. Forest Service

•    Placer County Water Agency

•    The American River Conservancy

•    Sierra Nevada Conservancy

•    The Nature Conservancy

•    Sierra Nevada Research Institute at the University of California, Merced

•    National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

•    Placer County

Hotter and drier conditions, decades of fire suppression and past logging practices have combined to make California’s forests more vulnerable to high-severity wildfire. Massive tree die-offs due to years of drought and widespread insect infestations, year-round fire weather conditions and overgrown young-growth forests have all combined to create severe fire risks, particularly in the Sierra.