Surge for the Sierra: Governor approves massive conservancy |

Surge for the Sierra: Governor approves massive conservancy

Standing on a wide gravel bar with the Bear River flowing gently by him, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Sierra Nevada Conservancy bill Thursday to the sound of bipartisan applause.

“California is where the conservation movement began, and today we are happy to continue this noble tradition,” Schwarzenegger said. “This is the kind of thing we can do if both parties work together.”

The conservancy will lobby for money to bolster the Sierra’s ecology and economy, and Nevada County residents are actively seeking to land its headquarters in Nevada City. It was formed by state assemblymen Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, and John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, who stood beside the governor as he signed the history-making bill just outside of Colfax.

“Bipartisanship takes a big risk to be successful,” Laird said. He applauded former Nevada County Supervisor Izzy Martin and her fellow Sierra Fund members Joey Jordan and Shawn Garvey of Nevada County for being instrumental in forming the conservancy.

“This is a historic moment for the Sierra,” Garvey said just before Schwarzenegger’s speech, “and his name will be connected with the Sierra just like Theodore Roosevelt’s and John Muir.”

Leslie insisted that members of boards of supervisors in the Sierra’s counties be included on the conservancy board, and the final version of the law honored his efforts. The conservancy “was built with the radical idea that people who work, live and raise their families here are the front-line stewards of the land,” Leslie said.

“This is a great vehicle to bring conservation money to our area to make sure there’s clean water and work done on really necessary projects,” said Janet Cohen, executive director of the South Yuba River Citizens League in Nevada City.

“The Sierra is a huge chunk of California, and it’s been brutally underfunded,” Cohen said. “This is where the water and trees come from and where people recreate. It’s been overlooked for years and years.”

“The key thing was having some local representation,” said Inyo County Supervisor Linda Arcularius. She and Supervisor Bob Meacher of Plumas County both lauded Leslie’s efforts, “but we wouldn’t have had this if Laird hadn’t gotten involved,” Meacher said.

Several hundred people attended the ceremony, which was under heavy security for the governor.

According to Schwarzenegger’s office, the conservancy will be the largest in the state in terms of land mass, overseeing 25 million acres from the Pit River watershed in the far northeast corner of the state to the southern tip of the Sierra in Kern County.

The Sierra Fund said the range produces 65 percent of the state’s water but received only 1 percent of the $1 billion water quality bond money available in 2002. The Sierra’s population is expected to triple by 2040, according to Sierra Fund figures.

What’s Next?

– The Sierra Nevada Conservancy will have to be put into the state’s 2005-06 budget with a start-up cost of $755,000.

– The conservancy board must be picked, with Schwarzenegger selecting five members, the legislature choosing two, and six more coming from the county boards of supervisors across the Sierra.

– A location for the conservancy headquarters must be found. Several towns are already vying for it, including Nevada City.

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