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Who Are We?

Center for the Study of Force Majeure
335 Linden St
Santa Cruz, CA 95062

Our MISSION: Solve the crisis of catastrophic fire in California and the intermountain West using a Whole Systems approach that combines environmentally informed forest thinning with creating a sustainable locally organized (distributed) wood products industry and market.

LIVING FORESTS: A Whole Systems Approach

Imagine a Forest Industry of the 21st Century where the act of harvesting (forestry) preserves the system (the forest) and the act of preserving the system provides meaningful work for the human community.

Decades of fire suppression have created forests that have way too many trees, spread in too regular a pattern. That timber is in constant danger of catastrophic burning, endangering people, property, wildlife, and watershed, potentially devastating whole communities. We need to restructure endangered forest areas through California by selectively removing excess trees and biomass. At the same time, the mixed pine forests of the Central Sierra have relatively little commercial value, and the current back log of dead timber from previous fires has filled the major mills to capacity for the foreseeable future, leaving literally no market for live timber. Finding effective commercial (small and large scale) uses for Sierra timber is critical for the long-term well being for California as a whole and the Truckee Tahoe Region in particular. The amount of timber potentially available for extraction is staggering. Literally billions of board feet of timber will burn without control unless we change our policies.

We spend over $1.5 billion annually on fire control to protect 15 million fire-endangered acres in California. Without major changes, we will lose the entire forest within a few decades. These fires also release vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, paradoxically increasing total atmospheric carbon load.

California is simultaneously in deep crisis over water; reservoirs and groundwater levels are at historic lows. Yet large wildfires harm water supplies by degrading water quality with increased runoff carrying topsoil, debris, ash, and fire-fighting chemicals. Elevated nutrients feed algae blooms. Sediments reduce reservoir capacity.

Previous efforts to address fire and drought have failed because they have not used a “whole systems” approach. Responsibilities are fragmented among local, state, and federal agencies; regulations work at cross-purposes. Citizen groups resist forest management plans due to past histories of disregarding environmental protections.

We believe there is a major opportunity for a broad range of stakeholders to succeed in resolving seemingly intractable problems. We are working on a solution that integrates:
  • A focus on long-term job creation focused on small business and underserved communities in economically depressed regions
  • A focus on low impact scientifically designed tree removal
  • The potential for a large manufactured wood products industry based on renewable small-tree source materials to produce CLT, OSB or other products—This not only reduces the amount of steel and concrete needed in building, it will store massive amounts of carbon indefinitely
  • Biomass and renewable wood based clean burning fuel (using wood that has previously been allowed to burn in forest fires) to support local electrical generation and heating needs
  • Woodchip and pulp
  • Traditional uses of timber including lumber, pallets and poles
The research at Sagehen shows how this can be done. Contracts are let and timber is being harvested in bulk in the fall of 2017. Several other forest projects in the Tahoe Truckee Region are also being managed in similar ways with a goal of providing reliable wood supply in bulk over time.

There are active construction projects breaking ground in the Reno area, including the 2nd Street project: a 200 building development with a 6-year build out that is actively looking to include manufactured wood in their construction. Other potential large and medium scale wood consumers for Eastern Sierra timber can be found in the rapidly expanding Reno zone.

We are actively pursuing companies or groups interested in exploring the value of using wood to produce sustainable products for a broad range of consumer, commercial and construction uses.

We are in a crisis of despair, as climate change appears too vast a problem for individuals or even governments to cope with. Our work is designed to counter this despair.

The Center for the Study of the Force Majeure, based at the University of California, Santa Cruz, brings together artists, scientists, engineers and planners and visionaries to design mitigation systems and policies that respond to the issues raised by global temperature rise at the scale that they present.

Led by Helen and Newton Harrison, internationally acclaimed artists and pioneers in the ecological-art movement, the Center is an intentionally hybrid institution that incorporates insights from art and science in ways that challenge traditional boundaries between academic disciplines.

LF Working Team (affiliations for reference only)
  • Newton Harrison Director, Center for the Study of Force Majeure
  • Joshua Harrison Co-Director, Center for the Study of Force Majeure
  • Kelly Skye Studio Director, Center for the Study of Force Majeure
  • Jeff Brown Director, UC Berkeley - Central Sierra Field Research Stations (Sagehen)
  • Faerthen Felix Asst. Manager, UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station
  • Amy Horne, JD, PhD, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
  • Jeremy Drew Coordinator and Manager of the Nevada Pinyon-Juniper Partnership
  • Bob Hambrecht, Allotrope Partners
  • Don Hittenmiller, Co-Founder, Alpine Biomass Committee
Printable version of this document available here.

Saving the West from Kelly Skye on Vimeo.


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