The Sierra Fund Highlights of 2008

As an innovative community foundation for the environment, The Sierra Fund partners with private donors and public agencies to increase and organize investment in the land, air, water and human resources of the Sierra Nevada. We pursue this mission through philanthropy, advocacy and strategic campaigns.

In 2008 The Sierra Fund made the transition from a “start-up” community foundation to a mature organization, successful at bringing our work forward and strong enough to support our partners in our mission to “save the Sierra.”  We made significant new investments in some exciting legal victories, as well as bringing new public and private funding to the region. We have begun to see the impact of our Mining Toxins Initiative in both Sacramento and Washington, DC. Today, as many conservation organizations in the Sierra are barely surviving the economic and budget crisis, The Sierra Fund is serving our partners by providing bridge funding to help our partners to weather this storm.

Our donors and supporters have made this leap forward possible. We thank you for your help in our work to increase and organize public and private investment in protecting the people and places that make the Sierra Nevada so special.

The Sierra Fund works toward our mission using three basic methods:

  • Strategic Campaigns designed to bring attention and resources to the special needs of the Sierra Nevada.
  • Advocacy at the State and Federal level for public investment in the Sierra Nevada.
  • Philanthropic Services for our donors and partners to design and implement initiatives that reflect their vision and objectives.

1. Strategic Campaigns:  Highlighting the Needs of the Sierra
Over the last several years The Sierra Fund has engaged in two strategic campaigns: launching our Sierra Nevada Legacy Mining Toxins Initiative; and helping to establish and find sustainable funding for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy.

Mining’s Toxic Legacy Initiative
Thinking big, working locally is a good way to describe 2008’s mining Initiative. Our community organizer has traveled thousands of miles in the vast project area, planting information about the impacts of legacy toxins with people from a wide variety of cultures, occupations, and background. We have worked with officials at every level of the political landscape, and pursued the details of policy and regulations. We have identified important holes in the wide range of scientific data available, and have specified the path to fill them.

At the same time, we have been developing partnerships with organizations that can help promote our goal of assessing and addressing legacy mining toxins. Working with the Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe, we have contacted tribal organizations all over the Sierra and sponsored dozens of meetings to talk about these issues with Tribal Chairs. Friends of Deer Creek has worked with us to develop an “Angler Survey” and “Recreation Survey” that they will be using on lakes and rivers and in parks to learn more about exposure to mining toxins through fish consumption or dust inhalation. Now, we are developing a pilot project in cooperation with a Sierra land trust that will use our expertise to help assess the historic mine tailings on properties slated for acquisition.

We are also building a media presence on this issue. In May, The Sierra Fund’s Mining Project was featured on San Francisco ABC affiliate KGO on a special looking at legacy mining impacts. We developed two “Opinion Editorials” that were reprinted in newspapers all over the Sierra. We have also been interviewed by newspaper, radio and e-news reporters for their news stories.

This broad view of the issue has produced remarkable results this year. More than 1,000 people have attended public events on the subject. For the first time ever, hearings were held in the State Capitol on the impacts of legacy toxins. US Senator Feinstein requested our priorities for cleanup and coordination, and has successfully shepherded $105 million for abandoned mine cleanup into the Economic Stimulus Bill now under consideration by the US Senate. And, we worked with the Department of Toxic Substances Control in their successful application to study the “bioavailability” of arsenic in Sierra soils, a key research recommendation from our report.

This work has been generously supported by grants from the Richard & Rhoda Goldman Fund, The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, Rose Foundation for the Community and Environment, and True North Foundation.

Sustainable Funding for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy   
Since 2005, The Sierra Fund has led the effort to create a sustainable funding stream for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) through the development of a Sierra Nevada Specialty License Plate. These types of plates provide significant funding to the Tahoe Conservancy, Yosemite Fund and Coastal Conservancy.

Over the last year The Sierra Fund has developed a Marketing Plan for the Campaign, worked with the SNC Board to design and gain approval from the DMV for a license plate design, including approval of the official License Plate Registration Brochure. We have convened an “Action Team” meeting of fellow Sierra conservation leaders to launch this campaign in the near future. This work has been funded by our major donors, as well as a $5,000 grant from PG&E.

2. Advocacy for the Sierra
The Sierra Fund is a regular presence in the State Capitol, working especially closely with legislators and staff on the Senate and Assembly budget committees that oversee natural resource management.

Sierra Day in the Capitol
We sponsored our seventh annual Sierra in the Capitol Day with the Sierra Nevada Alliance on Tuesday May 6, 2008. Sierra advocates from all over the state attended, meeting with legislators or their staff to talk about the issues of concern to Sierrans, give an update on the SNC grant programs, and distribute our “Conservation Project Profiles” showcasing fifteen ready-to-go projects in the Sierra seeking funding. We also supported the Governor’s proposed budget asking for full-funding for the SNC, which was later adopted in the final budget.

Suction Dredge Regulation
Efforts to require changes in the laws governing the use of in-stream suction dredges for gold mining have been a top priority over the last year. Our primary concern is the impact of suction dredging on mercury, which is commonly recovered and mobilized as part of the operation, potentially affecting human and environmental health.

The Sierra Fund began working closely with the Karuk Tribe, California Trout and Friends of the North Fork American River to require a full environmental impact review of dredging impacts, and to bring funding and attention to this effort.

The environmental review will be conducted by the Department of Fish and Game, under a court-order resulting from a successful lawsuit against the Department by the Karuk. The California budget includes $1 million set aside for this review. An additional $500,000 was allocated by the SWRCB from a special fund to look at mercury impacts of dredging as part of the review.

We are calling for a moratorium – either statewide or on selected waterbodies based on endangered species and water quality concerns – on suction dredging until this review is complete.

3. Philanthropic Services
Our philanthropic services program has invested funds and technical support in organizations tackling climate change, land use, development, and public access. We have distributed nearly $1.6 million in grants and loans to organizations committed to the future of the Sierra since we were established in 2002.

Our capacity as a community foundation has increased over the last year, partly due to our increasing role as a fiscal sponsor or financial partner with key Sierra organizations. We also provide loans or grants for special projects.

Sponsoring Projects
We have provided a fiscal vehicle for several outstanding projects, including:

  • Saving The Sierra: Voices of Conservation in Action Two years in the making, this beautifully designed, hour-long public radio program was broadcast statewide.
  • Yuba River Wildlife Area: Priority Acquisition Project Phase I & II: This project represents an historic opportunity to acquire the highest priority conservation targets of the Yuba River Wildlife Area Conservation Conceptual Area Protection Plan.
  • Assessing and Restoring the Deer Creek Watershed:  The Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe and the Friends of Deer Creek are working together with area leaders and scientists to develop a plan for assessing and restoring the larger Deer Creek watershed, and to infuse any watershed restoration work with cultural and historic sensitivity.
  • Calling Back the Salmon: This annual event is sponsored by the Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe and numerous local organizations, and includes speakers, education, a salmon hunt and run, and a traditional Maidu ceremony.

Providing Litigation Loans
We have provided loans for organizations challenging poor land use decisions throughout the Sierra. Last year we provided loans for successful lawsuits in Sierra, Yuba, Plumas and Inyo County. We often recover some or all of these expenses when the case is settled in our favor.

Awarding Grants to Conservation Activities
In 2008 The Sierra Fund authorized a total of $235,810 in grants & loans from several different accounts, as follow:

Integrated Sierra Investment Strategy (ISIS) Grantmaking Fund:  Funds for this account are raised for from various individual or philanthropic sources, and given out as grants to organizations in the Sierra, as part of our overall philanthropic mission.

 Donor-Advised Grants (ISIS related, external):  Grants from these funds are directed by individual donors toward activities in the Sierra. At this time The Sierra Fund has six donor advised funds.

Donor-Advised Grants (ISIS related, interfund):  These funds are directed from donor advised accounts to The Sierra Fund for our programs.

Donor-Advised Grants (general interest):  Donor advised funds that reflect donor interests in activities outside of the Sierra geographic region.

Program-Related Investments:  These funds are loaned to organizations for various purposes, including providing cash flow loans to organizations with reimbursable government grants, or as recoverable loans to organizations that are engaged in impact litigation. Litigation loans are repaid if the suit is successful and legal fees are collected, and are forgiven as grants if the case is not successful. Thus far all our litigation loans have been repaid after winning the legal case.

ISIS Fund Grants: $31,407.61

  • Citizens Looking at the Impacts of Mining (CLAIM): $5,000
  • Friends of Deer Creek: $10,000
  • Sierra Nevada Alliance: $1,000
  • Tsi-Akim Maidu: $15,000
  • Tsi-Akim Maidu: $307.61
  • UTU Social Ventures: $100

Donor-Advised Grants (ISIS related, external): $28,086.60

  • American Land Conservancy: $1,000
  • CalTrout: $1,000
  • Ebbetts Pass Forest Watch: $2,000
  • Friends of Spenceville: $2,238.78
  • Mountain Meadows Conservancy: $1,147.82
  • Planning and Conservation League: $1,000
  • Restore Hetch Hetchy: $1,000
  • Sierra Nevada Alliance: $2,500
  • Sierra Watch: $10,000
  • Sustainable Conservation: $200
  • Tahoe Rim Trail Association: $1,000
  • Tuolumne River Preservation Trust: $5,000

Donor-Advised Grants (ISIS related, interfund): $6,721.68

  • The Sierra Fund: $2,500
  • The Sierra Fund: $4,021.68
  • The Sierra Fund: $200

 Donor-Advised Grants (general interest): $32,000

  • Center for Biological Diversity: $1,000
  • Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County: $2,500
  • Earthjustice: $1,000
  • Environmental Action Committee of West Marin: $2,000
  • Green Corps: $6,000
  • Habitat for Humanity: $1,000
  • Land Trust of Santa Cruz County: $2,500
  • Madre: $1,000
  • Maine Conservation Voters Education Fund: $2,000
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium: $1,000
  • The Panetta Institute: $1,000
  • Save the Redwoods League: $1,000
  • University of California Botanical Garden: $10,000

Bridge Loans: $4,236.75

  • Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe: $4,236.75

Litigation Loans: $15,000

  • High Sierra Rural Alliance: $15,000

 Fiscal Sponsor of Sierra Nevada Conservancy Project Cash-flow: $41,838.44

  • Deer Creek Project: $23,762.18
  • Yuba River Project: $18,076.26

Line of Credit: $76,518.89

  • Friends of Deer Creek: $76,518.89

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