Sierra Conservancy bills seek funding for range
By David Bunker
Two bills that would create a Sierra Nevada Conservancy are set to move into the state Senate.
The two efforts, AB 2600 and AB 1788, are progressing despite lingering questions over the degree of local control in the legislation. The aim of a conservancy is largely to coordinate funding and conservation efforts for the 400-mile long mountain range.
The Sierra Nevada Conservancy is an almost five-year effort by conservationists to focus funding on an area that they say has largely been looked over. The California coast and Lake Tahoe both have conservancies, but the Sierra Nevada as a whole is left to piecemeal together conservation programs with limited funding.
“This would be a huge step in correcting a historic imbalance in how state funding is distributed,” said Steve Frisch of the Sierra Business Council, an organization that has pushed for the conservancy for four and a half years. “The Sierra Nevada has acted as a natural resource plantation for the rest of the state.”
Frisch said it is now time to invest in the mountain range that has provided for the state for so long. But a potential sticking point of moving the effort forward – and a difference between the two bills – is the amount of local control that county and town officials will have over conservancy decisions.
This week the Nevada County Board of Supervisors approved a letter opposing the two bills. The letter, originally written by Supervisor Drew Bedwell, is being reworked to remove some of the harsh and combative language, which Perry Norris, executive director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust, called “flat out libelous and full of falsehoods.”
Placer County has thrown its support behind AB 1788, authored by Republican Assemblyman Tim Leslie. Democrat John Laird’s bill, AB 2600, has already passed the assembly and is now in the Senate. It is likely that the two bills will be formulated into a single legislative effort that Republicans, Democrats and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can support, Frisch said, adding that the question of local control issues is a legitimate concern.
“I don’t think that there is a split on this issue, I think that this is a legitimate issue,” said Frisch. “For a conservancy to be effective there needs to be strong local participation.”
But Frisch said that there are already portions of the bill that protect local property rights and water rights, and will ensure tax revenue generation.
But the biggest advantage of the conservancy, and one that will likely drive it through the state process this summer, remains the funding opportunities for the region.
“The Sierra Nevada represent 20 percent of California’s land mass and provide 65 percent of the state’s water, but we get only one percent of the state’s funding for conservation,” said Norris. “We see the creation of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy as absolutely necessary for the Sierra to get its fair share of funds.”
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