Input wanted onSierra Conservancy | SierraSun.com

Input wanted onSierra Conservancy

Sierra Sun Staff Reports

By Assemblyman Tim Leslie, 4th DistrictDear Sierra friends, I am seeking your thoughts. As you know, I am carrying AB 1788, which would create a Sierra Nevada Conservancy.A state conservancy is an agency that delivers state funds to areas of special value, such as Lake Tahoe or the California Coast. It makes grants and undertakes projects for a wide range of efforts, from acquisition of habitat to fire prevention and economic development. Unlike entities such as the “Coastal Commission” or the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, a conservancy does not have any power to regulate lands. As a staunch defender of private property rights and local control, I approached the idea of a Sierra Nevada Conservancy with trepidation. Most current state conservancies work in a friendly, cooperative manner with landowners and local communities. Still, if a conservancy board were to become dominated by activists, it could become yet one more tool of those who have little respect for Sierra residents or our values.Despite my concerns, I decided to introduce AB 1788 for two primary reasons. First, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stated clearly that he intends to create a Sierra Nevada Conservancy. Second, the California Legislature is ready, willing, and able to create a conservancy that leaves local communities with no say in conservancy decisions.It appeared almost certain that there would be a Sierra Nevada Conservancy. One question remained: “What kind of conservancy would it be?” I have been working to ensure that the conservancy remains the right kind of conservancy. It must guarantee strong local influence in conservancy decisions, while also honoring legitimate state interests.In my negotiations with the Schwarzenegger administration and my democrat colleague, Assemblyman John Laird, we appear to be nearing a point of agreement. I have heard from many of you already. However, I would greatly value your thoughts at this critical juncture. Remember, many of the provisions noted below do not represent what I would view as ideal. They are the result of intense give-and-take negotiations. I did not receive every condition I sought; even so, I did gain some important provisions. I believe this may be the very best we can hope for, providing strong local influence in the conservancy decision-making process.For those who remain opposed, I certainly identify with your concerns. Just bear one final thought in mind: Under current law, the state often carries out its conservation efforts with little or no local input. Activists and bureaucrats in Sacramento call the shots with little regard for those who live, work, and raise their families in the Sierra. Not only is this profoundly contrary to American principles of government, but it also undercuts effective conservation by failing to draw from the perspectives, volunteerism, and commitment of local communities. A well-designed conservancy would change all this. Decisions would no longer be made in “smoke-filled rooms,” but by a board with strong representation from the Sierra. Local perspectives and priorities would carry an influence not seen in decades. Certainly, the conservancy might still carry out some activities we would find objectionable, but much less so than at present. In addition, local priorities like parks, trails, public access, economic development, and fire prevention would receive increased attention. In the end, I believe the residents of the Sierra – both present and future generations – would be much better off than under the status quo.Goals of the Conservancy• Provide increased opportunities for tourism and recreation. • Protect, conserve, and restore the region’s physical, cultural, archaeological , and historical resources. • Reduce the risk of natural disasters, such as fire. • Protect water quality from degradation. • Assist the local economy, including providing increased economic opportunities. • Identify the highest priority projects and initiatives for which funding is needed. • Undertake efforts to enhance public use and enjoyment of lands owned by the public.• Support efforts that advance both environmental preservation and the economic well-being of Sierra residents in a complimentary manner. • Aid the preservation of working landscapes.