Agency is pulling it all together
While the path to collaboration and cooperation among rivaling parties is often rocky, one organization has established its foothold in the crevice that has caused a rift for many Sierra communities.
The Sierra Nevada Alliance has emerged as a leader that can aid grass-roots groups throughout the mountainous region. Formed in 1993, the alliance supports a multitude of agencies that are committed to preserving the Sierra Nevada’s natural resources. There are 45 groups that belong to SNA, some having rosters of more than 15,000.
SNA representatives spend their time traveling from one town to the next, educating agencies about regional issues like logging and watershed restoration. They also host an annual conference in various cities with renowned speakers and attendees who brainstorm short- and long-term strategies.
“Our focus is strengthening grass-roots groups and building coalitions between local leaders and those concerned with the environment,” said Laurel Ames, SNA’s executive director. Ames has been involved locally, spending three years as director for the League to Save Lake Tahoe. The mailing address is listed for Mammoth Lakes but Ames puts SNA’s headquarters in Lake Tahoe.
The three-woman staff has worked diligently to bring consensus and an open dialogue about aspects that are more apparent across the state.
“I think the basic problem has been trust,” Ames said. “People have come to understand that our landscape is very important.”
Some of the money raised is passed along to members that work on important projects. The “Sierra Futures Fund” contributed $12,500 last year to alliance groups. The small grants may not seem like much but go a long way when in the right hands, according to SNA board member Patty Brissenden.
The board represents a diversity of opinions, including politics, education and environmental. Board president Andrea Lawrence, a Mono County supervisor, said the alliance wants to put the community opinion first.
“The importance is that we are community based and we get the local point of view,” she said. “We provide our members with information, networking opportunities and support on issues.”
SNA has many expectations still ahead. The major task is creating watersheds councils in 18 counties that consist of stakeholders. The alliance expects federal money to come California’s way because of recent support for restoration projects.
Ames said she is extremely concerned with the population boom in the Central Valley and the Sierra foothills. More people are commuting longer hours from cities like Sacramento and Fresno to other counties that have lower housing prices.
“There is a lot of room to develop but we need to distinguish if we are developing the right property or destroying the environment,” Ames said. “We have to make good choices.”
The Sierra Nevada Alliance has become a guardian of the scenic, snowcapped range and their leaders vow to improve the quality of life in the next century.
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