Sierra Nevada Conservancy rounds up input in Exeter

By C.J. Barbre

It's a vast area, as big as the state of Virginia. It seems now that every inch of coastline is spoken for, at least from Santa Rosa to San Diego, the state has begun to take a serious interest in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Considering that they provide 65% of the state's water, this may be a little overdue.

John Brissenden, an Exeter native who now lives in Hope Valley where he operates Sorensen's, an all season resort, was appointed to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy board by the Speaker of the Assembly. &#8220We felt that 65% of the water area was getting 1% of the investment,” Brissenden told the gathering of about 40 people at the Exeter Veterans Memorial Building for a workshop by and for the SNC on Wednesday evening, April 26.

The Conservancy is a state agency established by legislation signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in September 2004. Its primary purpose is to allocate funding for environmental preservation while providing support for economic sustainability across 25 million acres from the Oregon border to Kern County. As California's largest conservancy, the SNC will provide grants to local governments for environmental protection, resource conservation, opportunities and economic growth. It is comprised of 22 counties, 20 incorporated cities and 212 communities.

However, since the Conservancy is still in the formulation stages, that description is still being fine tuned.

The meeting broke up into groups of five along with a facilitator or two for each group. From the five, one got the job of time-keeper and another as note-taker, to write down everyone's ideas on a flip chart to be summarized at the end of the study session.

It was interesting that each member of Group 2, in which this reporter participated, had a different concerned. Ron Hyatt from the Kern River Valley was all about water quality and &#8220waterscapes” as opposed to landscapes. Carol Manning of Springville was focused on wildlife habitat and healthy ecosystems as well as preserving and maintaining wildlife corridors. Mike Olmos of Visalia is on the board of directors of Sequoia Riverlands Trust which practices a flexible, non-confrontational, and market-driven approach to conservation. Lee Barlo, retired from the U.S. Forest Service in Porterville, was concerned about reducing the fuel load in the forest, and allowing &#8220industry” or logging to take place for a healthier and safer environment as well as employment. And, not surprising, I was in favor of more education and communication to support an increased understanding of the region.

Little was added to those basic themes. Brissenden said their needs to be more sharing by the government. &#8220We've missed out on a billion dollars worth of resources,” he said. &#8220We need to be multi-dimensional and collaborative.”

Barlo was concern about who the decision makers would be. &#8220I want to see some type of control on the Conservancy staff,” he said.

Manning stressed that nongovernmental agencies need a level playing field with government agencies. &#8220I see the conservancy working through local organizations,” she said.

Olmos said a good networking system needed to be in place.

&#8220Better education and preservation of cultural resources,” I added.

The following morning in a phone interview District 1 Supervisor and SNC board member Allen Ishida summed up his impression of what had been accomplished in the three-hour meeting. &#8220I think last night basically was trying to fine tune the language in the mission statement and the goals set by the Conservancy.” He said three more meetings were scheduled including one in Bishop and one in Nevada City. &#8220I think there will be an additional round of outreach meetings when it comes to prioritizing specific practices that we're going to be funding.” Ishida said he was certain the Conservancy would be in favor of funding invasive weed eradication and quality water projects.

&#8220I think the one thing that came out is everyone is concerned that the Sierra Nevadas represent 65% of the watershed of the state of California so watershed protection is a big issue. There also was a concern that they didn't want the Conservancy to be spending their money on doing all these extensive studies. Everything has been studied to death. We just need to address solving some other problems we have. You can't paint the Sierras with a broad brush. Every region has different needs.”

One of the tasks during the workshop was to prioritize what one was most interested in from a list of seven Conservancy goals. At table two we all agreed that all seven should be item one, that they were all equally important as follows: Provide increased opportunities for tourism and recreation; Protect, conserve, and restore the region's physical, cultural, archeological, historical and living resources; Aid in the preservation of working landscapes; Reduce the risk of natural disasters such as wildfires; Protect and improve watershed and air quality; Assist the regional economy through the operation of the Conservancy's program; Undertake efforts to enhance public use and enjoyment of lands owned by the public - plus, of course, everything we had already discussed and added.

&#8220The Conservancy has a great deal of potential to influence how public lands are used in the future,” Ishida said. None too soon. For more information go to sierranevadaconservancy.ca.gov.

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