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Publications and Products: Report

Science synthesis to promote resilience of social-ecological systems in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades

Comments regarding the Science Synthesis will be accepted until 01 May 2013. Please send comments to Lenya N. Quinn-Davidson at

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  1. 1.0 Introduction [pdf]

    National Forests in the Sierra Nevada and Southern Cascades are preparing to review and revise their land and resource management plans (LMRPs). The three most southern national forests of the Sierra Nevada (Inyo, Sequoia, and Sierra) were selected to be the lead forests for Region 5 and are among the first of the 155 national forests to update their plans. The new planning rule requires the forests to consider the best available science and encourages a more active role for research in plan development. To help meet this requirement, the Pacific Southwest Region (R5) Leadership asked the Pacific Southwest Research Station (PSW) to develop a synthesis of relevant science that has become available since the development of the existing LRMPs. Regional Leadership and stakeholders suggested that the GTR-220 report (North et al. 2009) served as a useful format, but that the content and scope of that report should be expanded to address additional biological, social, and economic challenges. In response to this request, a team of scientists from PSW and the Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW) assembled to meet the goals of the effort and to engage with forest managers and stakeholders. Team members participated in the public Sierra-Cascades Dialog sessions and met with Forest Service leadership and managers and external stakeholders to learn about their concerns, interests, and management challenges. read the chapter

    1. 1.1 Integrative Approaches: Promoting Socioecological Resilience [pdf]

      This chapter begins by discussing current management challenges that emerged from multiple chapters of the full report. It then it considers integrative approaches to promote resilience, including general strategies that recognize the integrated nature of socioecological systems, the importance of promoting disturbance regimes upon which these systems have evolved, and opportunities to integrate social considerations into strategies (see the Introduction chapter (1.0) for definitions of key terms). It continues by outlining an adaptive management approach to scale up current practices so that planning and implementation are more congruent with the scales at which processes affect ecosystems in the synthesis area. read the chapter

    2. 1.2 Synopsis of Emergent Approaches [pdf]

      This chapter focuses on three important themes that are touched on in this chapter; these themes emerged largely from synthesizing findings from the forest ecology, fire, and wildlife chapters. read the chapter

    3. 1.3 Synopsis of Climate Change [pdf]

      This chapter provides a synopsis of climate change, which is another issue that cut across every topic in this synthesis. read the chapter

    4. 1.4 Research Gaps: Adaptive Management to Cross-cutting Issues [pdf]

      This chapter discusses a number of current adaptive management efforts and important topics that emerged as priorities for adaptive management and research. Altogether, the chapters in this section outline strategies to proactively respond to expected challenges in the synthesis area. read the chapter

  2. 2.0 Forest Ecology [pdf]

    This chapter has a different structure than the other chapters. It is focused on four subjects for which stakeholders and managers have suggested that a summary of existing information would be relevant to a regional science synthesis: tree regeneration and canopy cover, red fir forests, forest treatments to facilitate fire heterogeneity, and carbon management in fire-prone forests. Furthermore, these four sections do not attempt to summarize and cite all literature relevant to each section. Rather, each section begins with one or two questions that motivated the subject’s inclusion in this synthesis. These questions provide the framework for how the relevant literature is selected and summarized. The chapter ends with a sidebar giving an example of how larger scales are often used in meeting forest management objectives. read the chapter

  3. 3.0 Genetics of Forest Trees [pdf]

    Climate change is anticipated to cause dramatic shifts in climate across the Sierra Nevada, including increased frequency and severity of wildfires. Reforestation may be an important component of ecological restoration after severe wildfires. These wildfire events may be important opportunities to promote resilience to climate change, because interventions during the early stages of succession can be less costly and more effective than during later stages. Ecological genetics, the study of genes and genotypes of natural populations in their environment, can inform restoration efforts with the goal of promoting more resilient forests. read the chapter

  4. 4.0 Fire [pdf]

    All sections of the synthesis are concerned with fire because of its role as a dominant ecological process in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades. Fire has long influenced the diverse natural and cultural resources of the synthesis area, including air quality, human health, infrastructure, community well-being, soils, timber, terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, and water resources. read the chapter

    1. 4.1 Fire and Fuels [pdf]

      The first chapter summarizes recent literature relevant to fire and forest management in yellow pine, mixed-conifer, and upper montane forest types in the synthesis area. It also discusses the historical role of fire in the region and describes potential outcomes of various management strategies–both currently and in the future. read the chapter

    2. 4.2 Fire and Tribal Cultural Resources [pdf]

      The second chapter focuses on the pivotal role of fire in sustaining culturally important plants and opportunities to learn about the effects of Native American burning practices. read the chapter

    3. 4.3 Post-wildfire Management [pdf]

      This chapter considers both short-term responses to fire, including salvage logging, and longer-term management and restoration of post-fire landscapes. That chapter was added in response to concerns from managers, as well as the expectation that climate change will increase potential for more severe wildfires (see Synopsis of Climate Change (1.3)). As an increasing amount of forest land in the synthesis area has been affected by major wildfires, more restoration plans are being developed. The Forest Service in California recently developed a post-fire restoration strategy template to help guide national forests in planning for restoration and long-term management of burned landscapes. Together, the chapters in this section provide guidance for managing fire to minimize its undesirable outcomes while harnessing its power to rejuvenate ecosystems and increase their resilience. read the chapter

  5. 5.0 Soils [pdf]

    When managing for resilient forests, each soil’s inherent capacity to resist and recover from changes in soil function should be evaluated relative to the anticipated extent and duration of soil disturbance. Application of several key principles will help ensure healthy, resilient soils: 1) minimize physical disturbance using guidelines tailored to specific soil types; 2) evaluate changes in nutrient capital and turnover, perhaps using simple balance sheets; and 3) recognize effects on organic matter and soil biota. Due to fire suppression, accumulations of litter and duff in many Sierra Nevada forests that evolved with frequent fires may exceed levels that occurred historically.  Repeated prescribed burns may be designed to consume fuels in patches to temper nutrient losses and other undesired effects. Extensive areas of high-severity fire pose risks to long-term soil quality by altering soil bulk density, structure, water-holding capacity, and nutrient content in ways that ultimately contribute to declines in soil resilience. read the chapter

  6. 6.0 Water Resources and Aquatic Ecosystems [pdf]

    Water resources and aquatic ecosystems in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades support critical ecological and socioeconomic values both within and well beyond the region. This section contains four chapters on different types of water-based ecosystems in the synthesis area. Though these different kinds of systems are related through the flow of water, they have distinct ecological issues and management challenges. Taken together, these chapters feature strategies to promote resilience that complement the broader themes of the synthesis, including an emphasis on promoting or emulating natural disturbance regimes, considering the larger spatial and temporal contexts of these systems, and understanding linkages between ecological processes and social values. As water travels, it integrates landscape influences, so that downstream waterbodies and their aquatic organisms reflect the condition of terrestrial and aerial environments. Accordingly, these chapters emphasize the connections between aquatic ecosystems and other forest components that are discussed in the chapters on Forest Ecology (2.0), Fire and Fuels (4.1), Fire and Tribal Cultural Resources (4.2), Post-wildfire Management (4.3), Soils (5.0) and Air Quality (8.0). read the chapter

    1. 6.1 Watersheds and Stream Ecosystems [pdf]

      This chapter considers challenges and threats facing those systems, including climate change and wildfire, before turning to recent research on water quantity and water quality, including how macroinvertebrates serve as indicators of water quality. read the chapter

    2. 6.2 Forested Riparian Areas [pdf]

      This chapter focuses on the ecologically important transition zones between upland forests and streams. It discusses current understandings of the role of fire in riparian ecosystems, as well as findings about opportunities for management to restore those areas. read the chapter

    3. 6.3 Wet Meadows [pdf]

      This chapter has a special focus of restoration efforts and research in the synthesis area and in other regions. read the chapter

    4. 6.4 Lakes: Recent Research and Restoration Strategies [pdf]

      This chapter discusses recent research and restoration strategies for high-elevation lake ecosystems; it examines a multitude of stressors, including climate change, pollution, introduced fishes, and diseases. read the chapter

  7. 7.0 Terrestrial Wildlife [pdf]

    A wide range of terrestrial wildlife species inhabit the synthesis area. This section of the report focuses on three of those species: two forest carnivores, the fisher (Martes pennanti) and the Pacific marten (Martes caurina)–recently split from the American marten (Martes americana)–and one raptor, the California spotted owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis). Several aquatic species of concern to management, including native trouts and amphibians, are addressed in the chapters of the Water Resources and Aquatic Ecosystems section (6.1 and 6.5). read the chapter

    1. 7.1 The Forest Carnivores: Fisher and Marten [pdf]

      This chapter describes the ecology and context of fisher and marten, summarizing population trends, identifying threats, and highlighting science-based implications for the management of their habitats. read the chapter

    2. 7.2 California Spotted Owl: Scientific Considerations for Forest Planning [pdf]

      This chapter describes the ecological context, population trends, and habitat needs of this top predator, highlighting recent findings on the effects of forest management, wildfire, and other important ecological stressors. read the chapter

  8. 8.0 Air Quality [pdf]

    The major pollutants causing ecological harm in the Sierra Nevada are ozone, which can be toxic to plants, and nitrogen deposition, which can induce undesirable effects on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Other airborne pollutants of concern include black carbon, particulate matter, pesticides, and heavy metals including mercury. Atmospheric pollutants that are delivered in wet and dry forms cause deposition of nitrogen to forests and other land areas. The highest potential for ozone to injure plants occurs on western, low-elevation slopes that have elevated daytime levels that coincide with the highest physiological activity of plants. However, recent evaluations of ozone injury in the Sierra Nevada are lacking. Ozone and nitrogen deposition interact with other environmental stressors, especially drought and climate change, to predispose forests to impacts of pests and diseases. read the chapter

  9. 9.0 Social/Economic/Cultural Components (Preface) [pdf]

    The approach taken in the previous chapters of this synthesis relies on multiple disciplines from the ecological sciences to frame core aspects of a sustainable, resilient ecosystem. Approaching forest management in the Sierra Nevada in a manner that promotes socioecological resilience and sustains important forest values requires consideration of not only the ecological, but also the social, economic, cultural, and institutional, components of the ecosystem, using a systems approach (Higgins and Duane 2008). The term “socioecological system” has been widely used in scientific literature on resilience. Key ideas underpinning the concept of integrated socioecological systems are 1) there are interactions between biophysical and social factors, 2) there are linkages across spatial, temporal, and organizational scales, 3) the system regulates the flow and use of critical resources that are natural, socioeconomic, and cultural, and 4) the system is continuously adapting (Redman et al. 2004). In the following six chapters, we draw from published science that the authors felt was essential to informing an understanding of forest management for socioecological resilience in the Sierra Nevada synthesis area. read the chapter

    1. 9.1 Broader Context for Social, Economic, and Cultural Components [pdf]

      The first chapter of this section describes the social context of the synthesis area. Drawing from the extensive analysis of the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project Final Report (1996), the chapter explores the social complexities of the area. Recreation and tourism are used as a specific example of a triple bottom line approach to sustainability, which includes ecological, economic, and social considerations; these topics were chosen in large part because they are the subject of an established body of literature and link to a global endeavor to understand and monitor sustainable recreation and tourism (see UNEP and UNWTO 2008). read the chapter

    2. 9.2 Ecosystem Services [pdf]

      The second chapter focuses on ecosystem services and how managers can use that concept to frame and describe concerns and tradeoffs as they relate to social, economic, and cultural values. This chapter also considers tensions between supply and demand for such services, especially in light of the population growth described in the first chapter. read the chapter

    3. 9.3 Sociocultural Perspectives on Threats, Risks, and Health [pdf]

      The third chapter examines the connection between social and ecological health and well-being in the Sierra Nevada. It explores, from a sociocultural perspective, the ecosystem dynamics that are threats to and stressors on Sierra Nevada ecosystems–specifically, climate change, wildland fire, and invasive species. The chapter presents and discusses the complexities of decision making associated with effective management for resilience. read the chapter

    4. 9.4 Strategies for Job Creation through Forest Management [pdf]

      One way to promote community resilience is to plan forest management in a manner that creates economic opportunities in local communities. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, including forest restoration and recreation, and commodity production–the subjects of the fourth and fifth chapters. The fourth chapter discusses strategies for job creation in forest communities through forest restoration and recreation on national forest lands. read the chapter

    5. 9.5 Managing Forest Products for Community Benefit [pdf]

      The fifth chapter focuses on strategies for commodity production, including biomass, timber, non-timber forest products, and grazing, that support community residents who depend on these resources for their livelihoods. read the chapter

    6. 9.6 Collaboration [pdf]

      Community resilience in the Sierra Nevada relies on local institutions and collaborative processes that promote adaptive management and contribute to overall socioecological resilience in the region. Thus, the final chapter in the section focuses on institutions, processes, and models for collaboration in national forest management that use an all-lands approach and incorporate traditional and local ecological knowledge. The importance of collaboration in the larger context of forest management, which is presented in the first chapter, loops back here to effective approaches for collaboration across scales, regions, and institutions throughout the state; these collaborative processes will continue to be an important influence on the success of managing for socioecological resilience in the Sierra Nevada synthesis area. read the chapter

  10. Appendix [pdf]

    Many of the recent topical synthesis reports cited in this report are listed below. Readers are urged to review the reference sections of each individual chapter for a more complete list. read the chapter


Long, Jonathan; Skinner, Carl; North, Malcolm; Winter, Pat; Zielinski, Bill; Hunsaker, Carolyn; Collins, Brandon; Keane, John; Lake, Frank; Wright, Jessica; Moghaddas, Emily; Jardine, Angela; Hubbert, Ken; Pope, Karen; Bytnerowicz, Andrzej; Fenn, Mark; Busse, Matt; Charnley, Susan; Patterson, Trista; Quinn-Davidson, Lenya; Safford, Hugh; chapter authors and Synthesis team members. Bottoms, Rick; Hayes, Jane; team coordination and review. Meyer, Marc; Herbst, David; Matthews, Kathleen; additional contributors. USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station. 2013. Science synthesis to promote resilience of social-ecological systems in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades. Albany, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station. 504 p.

Photo is of a lake and includes a view of mountains in Inyo National Forest.
Photo is of machine in forest cutting logs of felled trees. Photo credit: unknown.
Photo is of fire in a mixed conifer tree stand in Sierra Nevada. Photo credit: Brendan Collins.
Photo shows the view from Alta Sierra. Photo credit: unknown.
Photo shows a marten climbing a tree. Photo Credit: unknown.
Photo shows recreationists reading a sign at Big Trees Trail, Sequoia National Park. Credit: U. S. Forest Service.
Last Modified: Mar 22, 2013 11:36:22 AM