Report: Sierra Population Could Triple in 35 years

Sierra Nevada, CACalifornia has a new boomtown: The Sierra Nevada mountains. A new report released today by the Sierra Nevada Alliance shows that the population of the thirteen county Sierra Nevada region will triple by 2040 while nearly a third of the land in the region is at risk of succumbing to sprawl style development. These undeveloped lands provide a current sense of open natural areas that could easily disappear in the next five to ten years.

Current estimates show that between 1990 and 2040, the population of the Sierra Nevada will triple to the size of San Diego (somewhere between 1.5 million and 2.4 million residents). The majority of the Sierra development is shaped by county general plans because very few towns are incorporated. Seven of twenty California counties in the Sierra have general plans that will shape development for the future that are more than ten years old. According to the study, 70% of these counties do not have any countywide map or inventory of areas that need to be protected. 85% do not have any plans for preserving critical habitat.

“Sprawl has never been good for California,” said Joan Clayburgh, Executive Director of the Sierra Nevada Alliance. “It will be a disaster in the Sierra.”

“It is not a choice about having homes or businesses versus having wildlands and recreation,” said Professor Bob Johnston of UC Davis. “We can have it all in the Sierra – but we need to plan now how we will do that. Smart planning can save the Sierra we love. Poor planning will sacrifice Sierra vistas and natural areas to the steady march of sprawl.”

The study area for this report includes all or part of the twenty California and three Nevada counties that make up the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The core thirteen Sierra counties in California, where 75% of their land or population is within the Sierra Nevada, are: Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Inyo, Lassen, Mariposa, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sierra, and Tuolumne. Other counties in the Sierra are: Butte, Carson City (NV), Fresno, Kern, Madera, Tehama, Tulare, Washoe (NV), and Yuba.

“Much of the Sierra’s natural areas are threatened,” said Shannon Raborn, Land Use Coordinator for the Sierra Nevada Alliance. “Residents, visitors and elected leaders still have choices on how these mountain and foothill communities develop, but if we do nothing, the qualities we love and enjoy will be lost.”

The report also highlights that the oak woodland habitats of the Sierra are under greatest threat. The oak woodlands of the western Sierra foothills, where approximately 70% of the region’s population lives, have been hardest hit by development. Less than 1% of the foothills’ are protected from development, and much of the area lies within commuting distance of rapidly growing cities in the Central Valley. Similarly, more than three fourths of hardwood habitats are privately owned in Sierra Nevada counties with significant acreage in such habitat. For the region as a whole, approximately 68% – almost two million acres – of hardwood habitat is privately owned.

The report also documents that the region has already been growing steadily with the population doubling since the 1970s, residential building permits increasing 22% since 1990, non-residential building permits increasing 35%, a 30% increase in vehicle miles traveled since 1990, and a 36% increase in registered vehicles since 1990.

For more information, contact Joan Clayburgh at 530.542.4546.

For a copy of the full report visit the Sierra Nevada Alliance website after June 20, 2005 at: