Ag Today January 29, 2018

In California’s Sierra Nevada, putting the trees to work

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SACRAMENTO >> This is going to be a big year for one of the state’s smallest agencies.

As California redoubles its efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, officials are rooting around for new ways to meet the state’s goals. Included in their plan: recruiting billions of redwood, oak and pine trees to help diminish planet-warming gases by pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

It’s a major pivot, from regulating harmful emissions solely from factories and cars to calling on nature to pitch in. Officials say 2018 is the moment for the state to harness, and fully measure, the role forests can play in addressing the pressing problems of wildfires and the dangerous releases of carbon that occur when millions of forested acres burn. Both issues are accelerating in alarming, parallel lines.

A good bit of the work will fall to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, one of 10 conservancies within the state’s Natural Resources Agency.

The group — two dozen multitasking scientists, biologists and planners in a nondescript office park in Auburn, an old gold-rush town in the Sierra foothills — was born in 2004 with a mandate nearly as vast as the region. Like the state’s iconic coastline, the Sierra Nevada mountains are a defining feature of California, rising sharply to dizzying elevations, topping out at Mount Whitney’s 14,500 feet, the highest peak in the lower 48 states.

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