Billions of gallons of water saved by thinning forests

  • Forest thinning could increase water flow from Sierra Nevada watersheds by as much as 10 percent.
  • The U.S. Forest Service says that 6 to 8 of the 21-million acres it manages in California need immediate restoration. Another 58 million acres nationally also require restoration. For California alone, restoration costs are estimated at $5 to $10 billion. But, according to the study authors, the restoration might help pay for itself.

Posted: 24 Apr 2018 01:02 PM PDT Read full ScienceDaily article

There are too many trees in Sierra Nevada forests, say scientists. That may come as a surprise to those who see dense, verdant forests as signs of a healthy environment. After all, green is good, right? Not necessarily. When it comes to the number of trees in California forests, bigger isn’t always better….

That’s in part because trees use lots of water to carry out basic biological tasks. In addition, they act as forest steam stacks, raking up water stored in the ground and expelling it as vapor into the atmosphere, where it’s accessible to humans and forest ecosystems only when it falls back to Earth as rain and snow.

That process — by which plants emit water through tiny pores in their leaves — is known as evapotranspiration. And according to researchers, excessive evapotranspiration may harm a fragile California water system, especially during prolonged, warm droughts.

New research published this week in the journal Ecohydrology shows that water loss from evapotranspiration has decreased significantly over the past three decades. That’s due in large part to wildfire-driven forest thinning — a finding with important implications for forest and water management.

A century of forest management had kept wildfires to a minimum. But without fire, Sierra forests grew very dense. In recent decades, new policies have allowed nature to take its course, with wildfires helping to thin out overgrown forests.