‘Sierra checkerboard’ threatens species continuity
Special to the Sun
NEVADA COUNTY, Calif. – Large, continuous swaths of open space may play an important role beyond recreation in the future.
As the climate warms, both plants and animals are making the move uphill, according to biologists and ecologists with groups including the University of California, Davis, and the U.S. Forest Service.
But species need continuous open space to make such a move – or they could die off. Areas with large east-west swaths of undeveloped land in the Sierra Nevada – such as Nevada County – could be critical for species’ survival.
“The recommendation we’re consistently getting from the scientific community regarding climate change is to accommodate species adaptation. Large blocks of land – about 50,000 acres or larger – are critical,” said David Sutton, Northern California and Nevada Director for the Trust for Public Land, in a previews interview.
That continuity is threatened in the northern Sierra by a land ownership pattern known as the “Sierra checkerboard,” a remnant of the federal government’s granting of every other square mile of land in the region to the Southern Pacific Railroad to build the transcontinental railway.
Today, that means some checker squares are forest service open space, while others are privately owned, and could be developed in the future.
In Nevada County, the pattern starts east of Nevada City and runs up to Truckee.
Conservation groups including the Northern Sierra Partnership have been working together to buy or gain conservation easements on private land to ensure continuous stretches of wildlands remain.
This isn’t a theoretical problem for the future; it’s already started, said Sierra Watch Executive Director Tom Mooers.
“Pikas being impacted is already well documented and, closer to home, people are catching blue gill and bass in Tahoe. Things have already changed,” Mooers said.
The issue also affects water storage and fire safety, Mooers said.
Additionally, northern Sierra Nevada forests are being touted as a place for “carbon sequestration,” the storage of carbon dioxide in trees to fight climate change, according to the Sierra Business Council.
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