Schwarzenegger authorizes Sierra Conservancy bill
The Sierra Nevada has a conservancy.The quest for finances, staffing and a headquarters will follow, but on Thursday morning California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger authorized the funding agency for the 400-mile mountain range by signing the landmark legislation on the banks of the Bear River outside of Colfax.The bill will create California’s ninth – and largest – conservancy, spanning 22 counties and covering 25 million acres of land.”With this bill, we issue our declaration that our children and grandchildren will see and enjoy the same Sierra Nevada that we value today,” said Schwarzenegger, who made the conservancy a priority throughout his campaign and his time in office.For assemblymen authors Tim Leslie (R- Tahoe City) and John Laird (D- Santa Cruz), who flanked Gov. Schwarzenegger on the signing platform, the bill marked the successful conclusion of a bi-partisan approach to conservation.
“I made a decision early on to work with Tim Leslie,” said Laird before the bill signing. “I thought that he was a key to a compromise solution.”The compromise included a bigger emphasis on local control of the agency and the abandonment of any land-owning rights for the conservancy.”I thought that the local governance amendment was important to send the signal to local government that this is a good thing,” said Laird. “…I think the important thing is getting off the ground in a unified way.”Leslie said that the unified beginning to the conservation effort bodes well for its future in the Sierra Nevada.”The most lasting conservation flows from trust and goodwill; not threats and imposition,” he said.The conservancy’s official creation was also an important moment for local organizations like the Sierra Business Council and the Truckee Donner Land Trust.
“It was a great thing to see,” said Steve Frisch, director of natural resources for the Sierra Business Council, which has worked on the idea of a conservancy for over four years. “It says something about the Sierra Nevada. We’re a community.” Frisch said he thinks the mountain range should set a goal of attracting $1 billion in public and private investment over the next 10 years.”I think [the conservancy] will leverage investment in the Sierra Nevada,” said Frisch. “I think that we now have to step up and set some goals.”For the Truckee Donner Land Trust those goals include improving watershed health and wildlife habitat.”Watershed protection and restoration has got to be paramount in the Sierra Nevada,” said Truckee Donner Land Trust Executive Director Perry Norris.The conservancy may also help fund Truckee’s expansive trail plans.
“Truckee has great plans for trails, but that’s all they are is plans,” said Norris. “They are way, way underfunded.”The conservancy will now launch a five-year public planning process mandated by the state legislation. But according to Shawn Garvey, CEO of the Nevada City-based Sierra Fund, the Sierra could see results from the legislation fairly soon.”The state has an intense commitment to get the conservancy up and running,” said Garvey, “I believe that we will see significant movement with the next 12 months.”The conservancy is slated to have the same number of staff, 50, and a similar operating budget, $7 million, as California’s Coastal Conservancy, he said. The first move will be to form the board of directors, which will in turn select an executive director.For Truckee, the realization of the state conservation agency means the future is bright, local supporters say.”You know how passionate Truckee is about open space and trails,” said Norris. “This is a key vehicle to make that passion a reality.”