Plan will preserve 140,000 acres in the Sierra | SierraSun.com

Plan will preserve 140,000 acres in the Sierra

Sun staff report

A plan to guide the conservation of more than 140,000 acres of Pacific Gas andamp; Electric-owned land in the Sierra was adopted this week.The Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council approved a permanent conservation plan for the watershed lands located in 22 California counties, including 10,000 acres in Nevada County.A state plan allowing PGandamp;E to exit bankruptcy in 2003 included an agreement protecting 140,000 acres of the utility’s land in the Sierra Nevada, mostly property around its hydroelectric projects. Under its bankruptcy reorganization settlement agreement, approved by the California Public Utility Commission, PGandamp;E committed to placing permanent conservation easements on utility-owned watershed lands or donating the lands to public entities or qualified non-profit conservation organizations. The alternative, selling properties on the open market, raised concerns of unplanned development in the Sierra.The 2003 agreement also called for PGandamp;E to provide $100 million for environmental programs.Also as part of the agreement, PGandamp;E established the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council, a nonprofit foundation tasked with administering the lands involved in the PGandamp;E settlement. The stewardship council includes representatives from conservation groups, the state Legislature, the CPUC and businesses.The Land Conservation Plan is a model for cooperation and community engagement, Mike Chrisman, secretary for Resources and president of the Stewardship Council board of directors said in a release. This plan will ensure that environmental and economic benefits of California lands will be preserved for this generation and for generations to come.More than 10,000 acres of land owned by PGandamp;E in Nevada County will be permanently protected from development under the agreement. More than 85,000 acres of the protected lands are in the mountain regions of Shasta and Plumas counties, with the third largest amount 10,653 acres in Nevada County. The land was acquired over the past century for PGandamp;E’s hydroelectric operations.Following the adoption of the final conservation plan, the Stewardship Council will submit the document to PGandamp;E, which will in turn file the appropriate applications to the CPUC. This is the next step in a long and critical process of land conservation, said Dave Sutton, vice president of the council. We intend to continue a productive relationship with stakeholders, PGandamp;E and the CPUC during this entire process.Beginning early next year, the council will begin the development of four pilot planning units, including McArthur Swamp, Bucks Lake, Kennedy Meadows and Doyle Springs. These planning units were chosen because they each exhibit a unique set of land use and conservation challenges, according to the council. The conservation plan provides the framework for the preservation and enhancement of California lands guided by six beneficial public values, including open space, natural habitat, public recreation, historic resources, sustainable forestry and agricultural uses. The final conservation plan will be available on http://www.stewardshipcouncil.org beginning in early January 2008.