Sierra Nevada Conservancy unveils their strategic planning process.

Sacramento, CA –

The Sierra Nevada Conservancy Board of Directors today announced adoption of a strategic planning process that will be used to create a plan that will guide the development of Conservancy programs over the next several years. This plan, which is anticipated to be finalized by July 1, 2006, will include an overview of priorities. A more detailed “program plan” will be considered by the Board in December.

The Board adopted the plan that was brought forward by Conservancy Board members John Brissenden and B.J. Kirwan, the subcommittee appointed in December to craft an approach to strategic planning. Their proposal, which includes guiding principles, community priorities, and a strategic planning protocol, were posted on the website earlier this month.

The Board announced that a more detailed public meeting about the content and direction will be held sometime in May. For more information about this process, visit the Sierra Nevada Conservancy website:

Elizabeth Martin, CEO of the Sierra Fund, made the following statements to the Conservancy board:

First, I would like to congratulate the Sierra Nevada Conservancy Strategic Planning subcommittee for development of a well-considered approach to the process.

The documents that outline guiding principles, community priorities, and a strategic planning protocol are good food for thought. I think they have created an excellent framework for development of an “interim” strategic plan over a short time that will position the Conservancy toward long term success.

The charge of creating a coherent strategy for developing the Sierra Conservancy is a daunting one. I want to summarize some key issues that I hope the Sierra Nevada Conservancy Board of Directors will take into consideration as you produce a plan:

1. Involving both Rural and Urban Constituencies: While the early regional outreach meetings focused exclusively on working within the Conservancy region, we believe that the strategic planning process needs to involve in some significant way the urban constituency.

The Sierra Fund has worked hard to build urban support for this new state agency. With the urban Californians contributing the vast majority of funding for this new agency, and considering the importance of Sierra resources to the whole state, I believe that the strategic planning process must reach out to urban voices.

There are several ways that this could be accomplished, including:

a. Creating an outreach strategy for urban media (San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento).

b. Circulating the draft strategic plan for comment to key urban decision makers, possibly including the Coastal Conservancy, City and County elected officials in key areas, large water agencies (such as EBMUD or MWD) and both urban and rural state legislators.

c. Presentations to elected leaders in formal settings (such as presentations to the Assembly and Senate Natural Resources Committee), or possibly at public meetings of government officials at conferences such as the County Supervisors Association of California, the Southern California Council of Governments, or the Association of Bay Area Governments.

d. Informal meetings with conservation, recreation industry, labor, business and other interested leaders from throughout the state. A possible list of interested groups could be the nearly 100 organizations that endorsed the Sierra Conservancy legislation. I will be happy to supply this list of groups and contacts.

2. Conservation Priorities: There have been several studies on conservation needs in the Sierra, including the “Sierra Nevada Resource Investment Needs Assessment” produced in July 2002 by the Resources Agency. This report assembled a preliminary list of 100 sample projects — already planned and with strong local support — in the Sierra that would benefit from state investment. These projects, including collaborative planning, easement acquisition, and watershed restoration, would require between $176 million and $255 million, affecting one million acres.

The Sierra Fund commissioned a study of the top priority projects of the Sierra Cascade Land Trust Council in 2003, which identified $1.8 billion in funding needed over the next ten years to accomplish their goals. In other surveys of the Sierra, natural resource consultants have estimated the costs of addressing fire and fuel loads (which have a direct impact on water quality) to be $325 million, and the cost of addressing roads in riparian areas (another major source of contamination) to be $47 million.

The Strategic Planning process should “stand on the shoulders” of these studies, and carefully consider scientific information on the deterioration of the water, wildlife, and air quality in the Sierra. The Conservancy can be particularly helpful by taking on “large landscape” conservation priorities that cross county and regional lines such as addressing the checkerboard land ownership pattern, blue oak woodland protection, air pollution or integrated regional water planning.

The opportunity to carefully plan resource protection should result in projects that serve multiple constituencies, solve multiple problems, and have a noticeable impact. Some early, visible and attractive successes that demonstrate these multiple benefits will help build momentum for the Conservancy.

The enabling legislation of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy does charge it with advancing both environmental preservation and the economic well being of Sierra residents in a complementary manner. However, the findings and goals in the enabling legislation clearly describe the primary function of the Conservancy as a conservation tool to protect the Sierras natural resources upon which the state relies. The Strategic Plan needs to carefully balance these issues.

3. Sierra-Wide and Regional focus: I think it is important that the Plan carefully consider programs that work for the whole region, as well as programs that may be only important in certain sub regions. For example, a blue oak woodland conservation plan may not serve the far north or eastern sub regions, but may be a top priority for several other sub regions. However, a storm water management program may be useful in every region, despite wildly varying geography. The Conservancy board may want to create a “matrix checklist” for ensuring that the Conservancy has programs that are important to every region.

This is especially important when considering major programs such as land acquisitions. In Inyo County, where 98% of the land is already publicly owned, any transfer of land into public ownership has an impact on the community. However, in western Nevada County where almost no land is in public ownership, it may make sense to create new public lands. There needs to be flexibility and sensitivity to the different regions unique conditions.

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