Reclaiming the Sierra

The Sierra Fund is a nonprofit community organization dedicated to restoring ecosystem and community resiliency in the Sierra Nevada. In 2006 we launched our “Reclaiming the Sierra” initiative to address the long-term human health, environmental and cultural impacts that are a legacy of the 19th century California Gold Rush.

Reclaiming the Sierra facilitates coordination, collaboration, and capacity building among scientists, academics, regulators, landowners, resource managers, First Nations, and interested stakeholders in broadening understanding of the impacts of the California Gold Rush.

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Prior to the conception of The Sierra Fund’s Reclaiming the Sierra initiative, the extent and role that the California Gold Rush played in shaping our environment and the lasting effects we see today were misunderstood and rarely discussed within the scientific or decision making communities. The Sierra Fund recognized the need for a larger conversation to inform the seminal questions of “What happened here? Who is still effected? How do we recover?” For the better part of the last decade through the implementation of Reclaiming the Sierra, The Sierra Fund has led a movement to debunk misconceptions about mining’s toxic legacy and to increase awareness among the public, scientific community, and regulating agencies.


Since 2010, The Sierra Fund has hosted biennial “Reclaiming the Sierra” conferences to catalyze action to address Mining’s Toxic Legacy and to establish a vision of adaptive recovery for the environment and communities that are still blighted from the 19th century Gold Rush. The Reclaiming the Sierra initiative and conferences have leveraged over a decade’s worth of research to understand the legacy of historic mining and brought together land managers, policy-makers and scientists to identify critical next steps in order to address the impacts of the Gold Rush and promote the resiliency of natural and human resources from the Sierra to the sea.


The momentum created through the implementation of the Reclaiming the Sierra initiative could not have happened without the founding members of The Sierra Fund’s Working Group of Advisors that helped scope the problem and refine questions around what we should do about it and what we still need to know. To date, perhaps the most important by-product of this effort has been the creation of the Headwater Mercury Source Reduction (HMSR) Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and the HMSR Strategy document. In 2017 The Sierra Fund launched the HMSR-TAC as a way to leverage the outcomes of a 2014 Department of Water Resources (DWR) funded effort for The Sierra Fund to lead a regional Mercury Forum. Together with this group of technical advisors, The Sierra Fund released the HMSR Strategy document in 2019 to increase momentum around addressing four critical targets; (1) Hydraulic Mines and Mine Features, (2) Mercury in Forest and land Management, (3) Mercury Contaminated Sediment in Reservoirs and (4) Mercury Exposure via Fish Consumption.

Next Steps

The Sierra Fund has responded to the global COVID-19 pandemic and has pivoted from biennial in-person Reclaiming the Sierra conferences to semi-annual virtual Headwater Mercury Source Reduction Workshops. By hosting the Reclaiming the Sierra initiative virtually and offering free admission (thanks to our sponsors) our message has reached a wider audience and continues to provide a critical stage for increased collaboration and awareness around addressing ecosystem and community resiliency in the Sierra Nevada.