California Water Protected by Chopping Trees

A Sierra Nevada Foothill (photo by David Prasad available on Flickr)

In the Madera County foothills, not too far from Yosemite National Park and Mammoth Lakes, Native American tribes and the United States Forest Service are coming together to do something good for California water and the drought the state is facing. They are coming together to chop down trees.

“These are water suckers. They take a lot of water,” Ron Goode, tribal chairman of the North Fork Mono Indians, explained as he pointed out a section in the Sierra National Forest overgrown with trees. “The more water they’re pulling out of the meadow, that’s also less amount of water going down to the Valley.”

As the state struggles with one of the most severe droughts on record, Californians must figure out ways to reduce their water use. Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages. Faith leaders and Native Americans are praying for rain and conserving water in their homes and houses of worship.

The challenge to conserve water is especially hard for farmers in the state’s rich agricultural valley. Lucrative crops, such as almonds and alfalfa, require a lot of water to grow. And it is even hard for farmers to grow more drought-friendly crops, like pomegranates and dragonfruit as water becomes less and less available.

But Goode believes he can help these farms and farmers by taking care of the land the same way his ancestors took care of California for generations.

While chopping down trees may not seem like an environmentally friendly option, Goode says it’s vital. When meadows become overgrown, any rain or snowfall gets sucked up by the trees instead of soaking into the aquifers and feeding the streams. That is why Goode is leading the effort to restore the meadows to the way they were when his ancestors lived on the land — wide open, lush, and thriving with plants and animals.

It’s by no means easy. “We spent two weeks cutting and we’re only at 70 percent, but look at what we’ve accomplished,” said Good. “That can be done to every meadow. Every meadow can be opened up.”

The water is indeed flowing thanks to Goode’s efforts — even in late July. A University of California study found forest thinning could add up to 16 percent more water flow yearly out of the Sierra Nevada and into California’s water supply.

This would mean big things for California’s environment and economy. Not only do farmers have access to more water, but dozens of species have returned to live in the meadow, from birds, to butterflies, to beetles. And meadows also serve as natural firebreaks — an important benefit as droughts increase the severity and frequency of wild fires.

“As Native Americans we know for a fact that there’s another drought coming in the next ten years,” said Good. “But if you’re not preparing for the future, you’re gonna have the same problem the next time a drought comes.”

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .