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Los Gatos Creek Watershed Collaborative Forest Health Grant Project

Forested landscapes across Santa Clara County are undergoing significant change. The climate is becoming warmer and drier, endemic species are at risk, and sudden oak death has taken an immeasurable toll on regional ecosystems and overall forest health. At the same time, drier site conifer species are displacing hardwoods and other sensitive plant species, reducing biodiversity and affecting the suitability of these habitats for rare and special-status wildlife. Altered fire regimes and increased fuel loads are driving larger and more catastrophic wildfire. The result has been damaging changes to ecosystems that require environmentally sensitive landscape-level treatments to redirect the path of changing climates and ecological conditions impacting the Santa Cruz Mountains and surrounding communities.

In June of 2020 Santa Clara County FireSafe Council, San Jose Water, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, and Santa Clara County Parks formed the Los Gatos Creek Watershed Collaborative to consider landscape level treatments to alter the course of drastic changes that these important ecosystems are experiencing. Utilizing the expertise of Auten Resource Consulting, the collaboration developed this three year plan.

This collaborative landscape-level effort has identified an interconnectable mosaic pattern of treatment areas that, with ecologically sensitive treatments, meet the goals of the Forest Health Program to:

  • Establish healthy, resilient fire-adapted ecosystems to protect and conserve natural resources.
  • Protect upper watersheds where important regional water supplies originate.
  • Promote the long-term storage of carbon and reduce the severity of catastrophic wildfire thereby increasing community and forest ecosystem protection.

Vegetation treatments focus on increasing the health and vigor of the forest by conducting understory thinning through mastication of trees up to ~8 inches in diameter, removal of dead and dying trees predominantly resulting from sudden oak death, control of invasive species, and treatment of ecotypes where Douglas-fir encroachment has changed the fuel regime and is actively converting sensitive forest systems. Additionally, treatments address broader scale forest health and ecosystem resilience factors, including habitat connectivity, water quality/quantity, carbon sequestration, and maintenance of rare species and their habitats. 

Furthermore, selected treatment areas were proposed for this grant to add connectivity to recent and planned projects to create an ever-increasing network of forest health, fuel break, and evacuation route projects in Santa Clara County. It will connect to the Governor’s List State Route 17 Project, a CAL FIRE and SCCFSC joint project completed in May 2020, as well as connecting to past and future collaborative fuel reduction efforts in the Summit area conducted by local Firesafe councils.

The California Environmental Quality Act requirements are close to completion on approximately 300 acres with other treatment areas and ownerships to begin their permitting process through the California Vegetation Treatment Program with the funding of this grant.

This highly collaborative venture was awarded a $7,500,000 CAL FIRE Forest Health Grant to create a mosaic of forest health treatments covering 955 acres in the Los Gatos Creek Watershed to be completed by March 31, 2025. This landscape scale forest health project focuses on creating ecosystem resilience, mitigating the risk of catastrophic wildfire while enhancing the safety of communities in the southern Silicon Valley, protecting sensitive native and endemic species and habitats, and protecting the drinking water in Lexington and Elsman reservoirs which supply over 100,000 residents.

The Los Gatos Creek Watershed Collaborative Forest Health Grant project is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment — particularly in disadvantaged communities.