Win-win situation with the Sierra Nevada Conservancy | SierraSun.com

Win-win situation with the Sierra Nevada Conservancy

Steve Frisch

When you read about the Sierra Nevada and natural resources in the same sentence, you half expect to read about conflict as well.Timber wars, water wars, land-use battles – those are the headlines usually coming from California’s internationally renowned mountain range. That’s why it’s so refreshing that the Sierra – and the state of California – are moving closer to a historic win-win deal to boost investment in the region’s natural, cultural and historic resources, and create a better working partnership.Specifically, Assemblymen Tim Leslie (R-Tahoe City) and John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) are developing a proposal with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to create a non-regulatory Sierra Nevada Conservancy. A conservancy can do the following for the Sierra, including:• Steer tens – or hundreds – of millions of dollars in new investment to natural, historic and cultural resource improvement and conservation. Over the last decade, the Sierra has received only one percent of earmarked state conservation dollars, even though our region provides more than 60 percent of California’s water and up to a half of the state’s timber.• Provide the Sierra with assistance on important local projects, like watershed improvement, forest thinning, and rangeland improvements. In a recent survey conducted by the Sierra Business Council (SBC), local representatives identified these types of projects as the ones urgently needing investment from state and other sources.• Give Sierrans a major voice in how state investments are made in our region. Currently, Sierrans have no direct voice in these investment decisions. The proposal being developed by assemblymembers Leslie and Laird and Gov. Schwarzenegger would include a conservancy board of directors with substantial official representation from the Sierra – and also provisions for local engagement on projects. This would be a major breakthrough for a region with little clout in California’s Capitol.• Bring Sierrans together from across the region to work on common problems. Right now, Sierrans have no regional forum to share ideas or strategize together on how to respond to the region’s rapidly changing landscape. A conservancy would provide such a forum.Despite these very real benefits, concerns have been raised about a Sierra conservancy. Chief among them is that a conservancy could undercut local land use authority. But the Leslie-Laird-Schwarzenegger proposal is explicitly non-regulatory; the agency would have no land use powers and no right of eminent domain. In our research, SBC found that conservancies are among the most popular state agencies because they don’t regulate and they are specifically designed to work with local agencies and groups on local projects.So if this is such a great idea, why hasn’t it happened already? After working on this matter for the last few years, I think it has to do with overcoming deep-seated (and sometimes well-founded) distrust between the state and the Sierra region. It has taken the extraordinary leadership of our new governor, along with Assemblyman Laird and especially the dean of Sierra legislators, Assemblyman Tim Leslie, to rise above past discord and work together for a program that balances state and local interests.After the passage of the state budget, it would be wonderful to see a bipartisan accord to create a common-sense vehicle for new investment in the Sierra Nevada – one of California’s fastest growing regions.If you are interested in more details about a Sierra conservancy or the cultural, historic and natural resource investment needs of the Sierra, please contact the Sierra Business Council at 582-4800 or info@sbcouncil.org. You can also see SBC’s research on the region’s investment needs at http://www.sbcouncil.org/SNRINA.pdf.Steve Frisch is the director of natural resources at the Sierra Business Council, a business membership organization devoted to securing the social, natural and financial health of the Sierra region.