Sierra Nevada Conservancy Draft Strategic Plan released, and The Sierra Fund comments.

In April the Sierra Nevada Conservancy released a draft Strategic Plan for public review, and The Sierra Fund announced the dates of the six regional meetings that are currently underway to provide public input on the plan.

According to the Sierra Conservancy Strategic Plan, it “contains important information that defines the SNC and how it operates”. Key information includes:

• An agency vision statement describing the desired future condition of the SNC’s jurisdictional area;

• A mission statement that reflects the charge given to the SNC by the State Legislature and the Governor;

• A set of principles that guide the operations and interactions of the organization;

• External and internal assessments that describe the context in which the SNC will carry out its programs;

• A series of Organizational Strategies and Goals that describe the steps necessary to create a successful organization; and

• A set of Programmatic Goals and Actions that create a sound foundation for the implementation of various programs the SNC is empowered to carry out. (Specific timeframes for these actions will be developed in the next phase of program and guideline development.)

This plan will undergo a full public review process, including six public workshops, one in each sub region. Following the workshops, the plan will be reviewed by the Board at its June 1, 2006 meeting. A revised plan will be released for additional public review following that meeting.

The Conservancy has placed a copy of the Plan on their website at Their website also includes a simple “Strategic Plan Survey” tool that allows public comment on the plan in an easy “question and answer” format.

The Sierra Fund has studied the Strategic Plan, and on Wednesday, May 10, 2006 submitted the following comments at the public hearing, attended by more than 100 people in Nevada City:

To: John Brissenden & BJ Kirwan, Strategic Planning Committee,Sierra Nevada Conservancy

Jim Branham, Executive Officer, Sierra Nevada Conservancy

From: Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin, The Sierra Fund

Re: Comments on the draft Strategic Plan

First I would like to congratulate you on putting out to the public a document so quickly, and allowing the bulk of the 6-month timeline to be used in public dialogue. In addition, the structural “bones” of the document are excellent for providing focused comments.

Thanks, too, for providing multiple opportunities to meet in public to provide comment on the document. In addition, the “Survey Tool” on your website is a great way to include public comment in this process.

Overall, I feel the document is a little timid in its language and vision. The Conservancy offers such a huge opportunity for change that is tailored to our region, but this language is a bit generic. I think the document would be improved with an introduction that paints a bright picture about what could be the outcome 5, 10 or even 50 years from now as a result of the Conservancy. This could use either anecdotes, poems, or other ways of expressing the multiple gifts that the Conservancy has the potential to bring to the area.

One key change needed is a widened understanding and description of local partners, especially local government. County Supervisors are only one small portion of the locally elected officials that lead special districts in the Sierra. Water, recreation, sanitation, fire and even cemetery services have local boards of directors that must be engaged. In many cases these agencies have a much more direct role in protecting water quality and fire safety than do county government.

The document barely mentions tribal government, though there are dozens of recognized and unrecognized tribes in the Conservancy service area. It needs to greatly increase its emphasis on the importance of the partnership with private and community partners, including non-governmental organizations such as conservation groups, arts councils and chambers of commerce. And, the document also needs to recognize the need to build relationships with area land owners and businesses in the range.

In addition, the Conservancy needs to find a way to work with the urban constituents that are footing the bill for the whole enterprise. This could include facilitating joint planning projects between upstream and downstream water agencies, or partnering with Conservation Corps from urban areas around restoration or trail projects.

Finally, the document needs to reflect conservation as a very top priority of the Conservancy. Ecosystem and wildlife health, including protection and enhancement of ecologically important habitat and migration pathways and biological corridors, needs to be listed as a goal, and discussed more specifically throughout the document.

Specific comments on the draft Strategic Plan:

Agency Guiding Principles (page 9): The “Working with Others” section needs to be expanded to include the following bullets:

* We collaborate with cities, counties, special districts (including fire, water, recreation, park, sanitation, waste disposal and resource conservation districts) as well as state and federal partners in our work.

* We recognize the importance of tribal governments in the region and will work respectfully to include this community in our programs.

* We understand the importance of cooperating with local and regional non-governmental organizations, which often provide important services and programs in remote and sparsely populated rural regions.

* We respect the role that land owners and businesses play in the region, and strive to work closely with them.

* We recognize the importance of California taxpayers that do not live in the region but rely on its natural resources for both recreation and water.

Agency Assessment (page 11): I want to applaud the “Institutional Challenges Section” for recognizing lack of capacity at the local level. At this point most of the Counties in the Sierra are terrifically under-resourced in their ability to participate in meaningful, well-informed technical long term planning. This affects road development, sanitation systems, land use planning, and water distribution. There are no wildlife biologists in most county offices with the credentials or time to participate in the Timber Harvest Plan comment processes that are central to forest planning.

Under the “Resource Challenges” section:

* Bullet #1 should be expanded to include the concept that rapid population growth increases risk of downhill flooding.

* Bullet #6: I think it is hard to say how health care is a resource challenge.

Agency Five Year Organizational Strategic Goals III. Increase Knowledge and Capacity (page 17): This section should include discussion of the value of regional planning. The Conservancy needs an internal structure to help its multiple partners to take advantage of regional opportunities for solving multiple problems with integrated planning, investment, and maintenance of the natural and human infrastructure. This could take the form of either regional committees, or Conservancy-wide issue committees (like integrated water planning, protection of cultural resources, etc).

The plan could add the following:

Goal 3.4: Support integrated regional and sub-regional planning on all the priority issues of the Conservancy.

Goal 3.5: Recruit technically trained staff for the Conservancy available to work collaboratively to identify projects and design programs aimed at the Conservancy's long term goals.

Goal 3.6 Help to provide better and more technical information to the cities, counties, special districts, tribal governments, and non-government organizations serving on the front lines of land use decision-making in the Sierra.

The Conservancy should help to provide the “software” to the counties necessary to protect their “hardware” (forests, ranches, rivers, lakes, wildlife, etc). This includes improved computer technology and the training and data to use it.

Agency Five Year Programmatic Goals (page 19): The plan should include an additional goal:

8. Protect ecosystem and wildlife health, including protection and enhancement of ecologically important habitat and migration pathways and biological corridors.

There should be an action goal added:

Goal 8.1: To facilitate and foster good planning to protect and enhance ecosystem and wildlife health along with working landscapes and open space.

Program Goal 4 Natural Disaster Risks (page 23): This section needs to be broadened to include discussion of a couple of additional natural disasters possible in the Sierra including:

* Avalanches, which routinely take lives in the Sierra;

* Subsidence and mining hazards (like the poor guy who died last month in Alta when an old mining tunnel opened up under his living room);

* Volcanic eruption threats from Lassen & Shasta;

* More about the risk of flooding from putting more pavement in the foothills.

Two action goals should be added:

4.4. The Conservancy to work with communities to assist in the development of plans to recognize and plan for natural resource disasters from avalanches, subsidence and mining hazards.

4.5. The Conservancy should work with local communities to reduce risk of localized flooding due to development of roads and other impervious surfaces.

Program Goal 5 Water and Air Quality (page 24): This page contains a serious error of fact regarding air quality. Nevada County and other low-elevation counties of the Sierra, are non-attainment areas for ozone, which blows up the hills from the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento Valley. We have some of the poorest air quality in the nation. In addition, certain areas of the Sierra have serious air quality problems related to wood burning stoves.

Discussion around water quality needs to include land use planning issues. Land use planning is central to water quality, particularly in the development and management of roads, which are a top contributor to surface water quality contamination. Sanitation districts also need to plan carefully with new water quality regulations coming into effect in the region.

One program goal needs to be added:

5.3 Identify threats to water and air quality in the region, both area-wide and regionally specific.