Sierra Conservancy effort moving ahead
The resource rich Sierra Nevada mountain range is one step closer to getting a statewide conservancy to protect its unique environment.On Tuesday, Republican Assemblyman Tim Leslie withdrew his conservancy initiative and swung his support behind Democrat John Laird’s bill, which passed the Natural Resource Committee in a 6-3 vote, but may come back to the committee for alterations encouraged by Leslie and the governor’s office.”They are really close to having consensus language [on the bill],” said Jim Sayer, president of the Truckee-based Sierra Business Council. “My understanding is that they have made tremendous progress on the issues.”Local government participation and the exact composition of the conservancy’s governing board are still two issues that the assemblymen are working to finalize so the single bill will have bi-partisan support.”What this means is they’ve passed one hurdle. They still have several hurdles to go through legislatively,” said Sayer, who testified at Tuesday’s meeting.But conservancy backers are optimistic, noting that compromise and collaboration has marked the process so far, highlighting the state’s realization of the importance of a Sierra Conservancy. “What you are seeing here is real bi-partisanship at the Legislature,” Sayer said. The conservancy, modeled after a series of similar entities around the state, would have the power to buy and manage lands and make loans and grants for various purposes, including protecting resources, promoting tourism and enhancing recreation.California has created eight conservancies since 1973 covering different areas of the state, including the coast, the San Francisco Bay area and the Santa Monica Mountains.Leslie, R-Tahoe City, urged the committee to approve the bill, although he said there was a “lot of resistance and hesitancy” among local residents about the legislation because large segments of the mountains are already in government hands.”There is a little fear about creating a structure that could put more land in public ownership,” he said.But a “properly structured” conservancy would give mountain residents “a new ability to have a say-so in prioritizing the needs of the Sierra,” he said.Fellow Republican Sen. Rico Oller of San Andreas said the bill “is going to have a dramatically negative impact…, not just on the personal freedom of individuals but on legitimate functions of local government.”But Sen. Byron Sher, D-Stanford, noted that the conservancy would not have eminent domain powers to force landowners to sell their property.”It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” said Leslie. “It’s a new state agency without regulatory authority or government power or the right of eminent domain.”Other critics said the bill should in some way compensate local governments for lost property tax revenue when the conservancy buys land and takes it out of private ownership.Supporters say the conservancy is needed to protect ranch land, historic sites and other resources as the mountains’ population booms over the next 30 to 40 years.The Associated Press contributed to this article.