By Tom Schmitz
PG&E today (Sept. 6) announced the first two recipients of its Better Together Resilient Communities grants — a program created to support local initiatives to build greater climate resilience throughout Northern and Central California.
PG&E will award $100,000 each to the University of California, Merced, and the Karuk Tribe of California for projects designed to help communities prevent and prepare for increasing wildfire risk through building healthy and resilient forests and watersheds.
In 2016 alone, more than 5,700 wildfires burned across the state of California, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. And despite record rain this winter, climate change is expected to increase the number of large wildfires as well as the length of the wildfire season in California.
“These grants are about funding innovative ideas for helping those who live in highly vulnerable areas prepare for the reality of climate change,” said Geisha Williams, CEO and president of PG&E Corporation. “We believe that drawing on the expertise and established partnerships of these local organizations is the best way to find effective solutions to an urgent problem.”
The two successful proposals were selected from among 37 applications through a competitive process, and reviewed by an advisory panel of community and sustainability leaders.
“California’s leadership on climate change can be found everywhere, in our cities and towns, tech centers and rural communities, and countless neighborhoods across the state,” said Dr. Jonathan Foley, executive director of the California Academy of Sciences and member of PG&E’s Sustainability Advisory Council. “The work this PG&E grant program funds will help to create the knowledge and tools that we need to build a better future for ourselves and our children.”
Robert B. Weisenmiller, chair of the California Energy Commission, said climate change is a challenge everyone should take seriously — from threats of rising temperatures to more intense wildfires.
“We must continue to find ways to work together to build climate resilience, with a particular focus on vulnerable communities and taking a science-based approach,” he said.
Project proposals and goals
The University of California, Merced, project will accelerate the pace and scale of forest restoration in Calaveras County by enabling partnerships focusing on lands that are a high priority for improving drought resiliency and reducing high-intensity wildfire risk, while enhancing both forest health and water-related benefits. Goals include:
- Developing much-needed analysis and tools for assessing relative drought vulnerability and resilience of forested areas based on existing research
- Working with local land managers and stakeholders to refine these tools and build capacity to apply them in a central-Sierra forest as a testbed
- Working with local stakeholders to carry out and communicate assessments of drought vulnerability, wildfire risk and forest-restoration benefits with the aim of engaging broader support for investments in forests as natural capital and green infrastructure
“The recent drought has increased the demand by local stakeholders for science-based assessments that consider how a dense forest can be sustained by available precipitation in a warming climate,” said Roger Bales, Professor of Engineering and Director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at the University of California, Merced. “This grant enables us to develop effective assessment tools and build our capacity for active stakeholder participation.”
The Karuk Tribe will develop a plan for addressing critical infrastructure needs and protections in preparation for implementation of prescribed burns in Humboldt County, working with the U.S. Forest Service and others. Goals include:
- Identifying areas for prescribed burns as part of the Tribe’s Climate Adaptation Plan
- Promoting community resilience to wildfires and climate change at both regional and community levels
- Strengthening the region’s capacity to respond to wildfires in support of local communities in the Mid-Klamath River Basin
“We have used fire as a management tool since the beginning of time. Our traditional knowledge is informing our approach to forest management today, which uses fire to reduce fuel loads, improve watershed health and reduce the risk of catastrophic fires. We welcome PG&E as a partner in this effort,” said Bill Tripp, Karuk ecocultural restoration director.
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.