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As home to the headwaters of the Santa Ana River, the national forest lands encompass approximately 30% of the Santa Ana River Watershed’s land mass. These areas also receive 90% of annual precipitation.

The Forest First Program is envisioned as a collaborative venture between the U.S. Forest Service and downstream stakeholders that focuses on developing methods to ensure that the forests and headwaters within the Santa Ana River Watershed are kept as healthy as possible.

Forest management practices have direct effects on both water quality and quantity, particularly relative to forest fires and the consequential effects of soil erosion on water storage. Over the past one hundred years, changes to the conditions of the forest’s natural state have occurred from recurring fires that have destroyed the natural vegetation community, and from increased forest fuel density in wilderness areas. While periodic naturally-occurring fires can be beneficial to forest ecology, these altered fuel and vegetation conditions increase the risk of unusually severe wild land fires that may result in undesirable fire effects that directly impact the surface and groundwater quantity in the watershed.

For more information, please see the Forest First brochure.

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The collaborative efforts in the Forest First plan include four main watershed restoration strategies that would provide significant benefits to downstream water supply and quality:

  • Forest fuels management, which would focus on reducing under story growth that can contribute to the intensity of fires, making them more devastating and difficult to fight.
  • Restoration of chaparral plant communities in areas that have not recovered due to repeated fires, and where native vegetation has been replaced by grasses that increase runoff, instead of the chaparral benefit of capturing and dispersing rainfall, and allowing moisture to percolate and recharge groundwater basins. The third strategy is meadow restoration that would involve returning water that had been converted to conveyance back to a meadow sheet flow so that the meadow can function in a natural groundwater recharge capacity.
  • Retrofitting roads in order to reduce water conveyance, reduce fire risk, and increase the number of fire breaks.