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Posted on: February 16, 2021

Yuba Water commits $6.5 million to improving forest health and reducing wildfire risk

A pile of cut down trees lays on the ground in front a a group of large standing trees.

Yuba Water Agency’s board of directors took bold action today to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and advance landscape-scale forest restoration in the Yuba River watershed.

In two separate actions, the board approved $6.5 million in funding for forest restoration projects as part of the North Yuba Forest Partnership. The partnership is a diverse group of nine organizations working collaboratively to plan, finance and implement forest restoration across 275,000 acres of private and public land spanning Sierra and Yuba counties and two national forests. Yuba Water’s partners in the North Yuba Forest Partnership include Blue Forest Conservation, Camptonville Community Partnership, National Forest Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, Nevada City Rancheria, Sierra County, South Yuba River Citizens League and the Tahoe National Forest.

“The momentum of the North Yuba Forest Partnership is a model for restoration in California and the western United States,” said Yuba Water Director Randy Fletcher. “This partnership has a proven track record of success and has done a tremendous job at showing what’s possible. We’re proud to be a big part of that.”

 $6 million Trapper Forest Resilience Bond

The bulk of the agency’s financial commitment is a $6 million cost-share contribution over the next 10 years, or $600,000 annually, to Blue Forest Conservation for a Forest Resilience Bond. The bond will advance restoration treatments on nearly 23,000 acres for two projects previously planned by the Tahoe National Forest in Yuba and Sierra counties.

The use of this bond model allows Blue Forest Conservation and its partners World Resources Institute and the U.S. Forest Service to attract additional capital from public and private investors to initiate restoration at a much faster pace and scale. Yuba Water and other beneficiaries of the restoration work repay investors at contracted rates as restoration work is completed, with the Tahoe National Forest providing in-kind support and funding for project planning, development and execution.

“Watershed-scale forest restoration needs more than just public dollars,” Zach Knight, co-founder and CEO of Blue Forest Conservation said of their business model. “It takes private investments and partnerships to accomplish that. We’ve proven it works with the Yuba Project, and now we will expand the model to get even more work done on the ground quickly.”

The Yuba Project previously leveraged a $1.5 million in cost-share from Yuba Water to secure $4 million in private capital to finance restoration conducted by the National Forest Foundation across 15,000 acres of national forest. That work is already underway and is expected to be completed six years earlier than it would have been if not for this trailblazing partnership. 

The new forest resilience bond is expected to leverage about $25 million in total funding and will be used to complete priority work that has stalled in recent years. The funding is also expected to leverage additional state and federal grants.

 $500,000 to plan and prioritize forest health treatments, complete roadmap for future work 

In a separate but related decision, the board also approved a $500,000 grant to complete environmental documents and permitting for the wider North Yuba Forest Partnership area and field surveys for the first 20,000 acres of treatment. The partnership had already secured $2.53 million for this effort and this grant fills the final funding gap.

“The North Yuba Forest Partnership is advancing restoration across hundreds of thousands of acres, a pace and scale significantly larger than the typical project area of 15,000 or 20,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada,” said Melinda Booth, executive director of South Yuba River Citizens League. “This planning effort for the entire watershed is creating a roadmap for prioritizing and carrying out work of this magnitude in the future.”

The partnership's shared-stewardship approach prioritizes reducing catastrophic wildfire risk for people and property and focuses on treating areas that have the potential to prevent a wildfire from spreading to higher-risk areas, Booth said.

The board unanimously supported the two grants due to the long-term benefits for Yuba County’s water quality and quantity, watershed health, air quality and the economy.

Collectively, the restoration efforts benefit Yuba County’s water supplies by safeguarding New Bullards Bar Dam and reducing the risk of post-wildfire sedimentation and large woody debris flows in the watershed. It is also expected to provide employment in forest restoration and management jobs, while reducing the threat of megafires for rural communities like Camptonville, Goodyears Bar, Downieville and Sierra City.

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