Investing Strategically for Resilience

This post examines a pair of parallel efforts to invest strategically for coupled landscape and community resilience, and a larger set of seven strategic investment principles for forest health and wildfire protection in California.

During the summer of 2018, in response to two years with uncharacteristically large and and intense wildfires, then California Governor Jerry Brown convened a statewide Forest Management Task Force (FMTF). Around the same time, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC, a state agency) convened a Strategic Investment Plan (SNSIP) process for this mountainous region of the state. Two months ago, our new Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency on wildfires to protect the State’s most vulnerable communities, reiterating the importance of the work of these two bodies.

Recently I’ve been representing the Tahoe Conservancy (the state agency for which I work) in both these venues. I’m supporting the two groups in developing a framework that provides consistent and flexible support to quite diverse regions that altogether span 423,000 square kilometers and 40 million people.

The starting point I have been pushing is to determine whether a given region needs support with:

  1. Landscape Condition Assessment
  2. Landscape Strategy Design
  3. Accelerated Project Planning and Environmental Review (based on the assessment and strategy, as well as other priorities)
  4. Landscape Capacity – (A) personnel training and technical expertise; (B) organizational processes including contracting; (C) equipment and structures; (D) industrial facilities; and (E) community resilience.
  5. Landscape Monitoring, Data Management, and Reporting.
Newsom Proclamation
Governor Newsom proclaims a wildfire emergency

Rather than judging all regions on a single set of criteria and awarding generalized grants accordingly, this needs assessment accounts for where a region is in its unique management trajectory, and then provides targeted support through grants, technical assistance, incentives, and partnership development. (See principles 3 through 7 below.) The three main operational components include funding regions (roughly a dozen statewide) and, within these, areas of substantial collaborative capacity, and areas with minimal capacity; the engagement strategy for the high and low capacity areas will differ significantly. The Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative, featured in this post, is dark blue in the draft regional map below, with Lake Tahoe the light blue island therein.

In this way, the FMTF and SNSIP processes are converging to help regions amplify the pace, scale, and thoroughness of forest restoration and resilience-building. Crucially, this regional work complements a community-scale fire risk assessment that earlier this year identified 35 high-priority fuels reduction projects throughout the State; in California, we’re focused on not just landscape forest health or local fire prevention, but both simultaneously. (See principles 1 and 2 below.)

SNSIP DRAFT Regions Mar 2019
Draft strategic investment regions (under revision)

Stepping back from the immediate work of the two bodies, at the Conservancy we’ve informally identified seven strategic investment principles for this work:

  1. Disburse near-term aid while simultaneously laying the groundwork for long-term disbursement. A strategically-designed investment framework can meet immediate needs for fire safety and protection this spring, summer, and fall of 2019, while ensuring this investment also aligns with long-term needs.


  1. Cover large regions rather than a patchwork of individual project areas. Large regions lend themselves to scaling up, increasing pace, and creating efficiencies,


  1. Support the types of needs that are specific to a given region. Do not assume that all regions require the same kind of support, and do not evaluate all regions according to one set of master criteria. Therefore:


  1. Assess each region for the five major types of needs that make up a strategic investment framework (see the five components noted above, from landscape assessment through monitoring).


  1. Provide both financial and technical assistance. Financial support alone will not fully meet needs, because stakeholders also need expert advice on how to actually develop plans and agreements that cover entire regions. SNC, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Department of Conservation, and other partner agencies can provide this expertise through technical assistance in each region.


  1. Combine directed grants and competitive grants. Competitive grants can surface projects that agencies otherwise do not know about, yet can gloss over important differences in regional needs. Directed grants and go straight to priority projects, meet specific regional needs, and require less intensive preparation.


  1. Carefully articulate multiple state agency competitive grant programs to provide recipients with a full package of needed support. Do not slow the pace of treatments or perpetuate planning silos by requiring grantees to submit multiple separate proposals, and manage a mix of different timelines and agreements.


In your work, what strategic investment principles do you apply to build the resilience of your landscape?



Unless otherwise noted, the information presented herein does not represent IUCN’s or the Commission’s position on the matters presented.

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