Sierra conservancy would not hurt Tahoe’s agency, authors of bill say |

Sierra conservancy would not hurt Tahoe’s agency, authors of bill say

Gregory Crofton

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune Assemblyman John Laird addresses the Sierra Nevada Alliance conference Saturday at South Tahoe High School.

The large plate glass windows allowed the audience to stare wide-eyed at the beauty of the Sierra Nevada.

But it was John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, who articulated why he thinks the state needs and will support an organization to protect, conserve and restore land on both sides of the 400-mile mountain chain.

“Sixty-five percent of the state gets its water from the Sierra,” said Laird, mayor of Santa Cruz before becoming an assemblyman more than a year ago. “It’s a very important resource for the state, recreationally and environmentally.”

Laird spoke Saturday about a bill that would create a conservancy for the Sierra Nevada to the 100 or so people who attended the annual conference of the Sierra Nevada Alliance, hosted this year in the library of South Tahoe High School.

Wearing black canvas Converse sneakers, fitted blue jeans and a red short-sleeved shirt, Laird recounted the progress of a bill he co-authored with Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City.

Each assemblyman pushed his own bill earlier in the year. But the two men came to terms over Laird’s bill, AB 2600, in part because Laird agreed to an amendment which will not allow the proposed conservancy to own any land.

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“I believe in the long term it will not hamper the conservancy doing what it needs to do,” said Laird of the compromise, speaking mostly to members of the alliance, a nonprofit organization established in 1993 to help communities protect the natural resources of the Sierra.

The Legislature is expected to make its final vote on the bill by the end of the month. If a conservancy is established for the Sierra Nevada it would be the ninth and the largest such organization in the state.

“The governor in his campaign spoke very strongly in support of a conservancy,” said Mike Chrisman, state Secretary for Resources, who traveled to Tahoe last week to attend an environmental meeting at the Ponderosa Ranch. “With the strong leadership of Laird and Leslie we feel very good about the process.”

Chrisman’s deputy, Crawford Tuttle, said he has been working to let people know that a conservancy is not a regulatory agency. Instead it is an organization that relies on public money and collaboration to accomplish conservation and restoration projects, he said.

The conservancy would be modeled after the Tahoe Conservancy, which has provided millions of dollars to build bike trails, acquire and conserve land, and improve drainage systems to protect water quality.

“It gives the Sierra a seat at the table,” said Laird, whose family has owned a cabin in the southern part of Alpine County for years. “It will draw more money and more attention to the goals of the Sierra.”

The Lake Tahoe portion of the Sierra would be excluded from a Sierra Nevada Conservancy because the California side of the lake has had its own conservancy since 1984. Both Laird and Dennis Machida, director of the Tahoe Conservancy, said they don’t think a Sierra Nevada conservancy would mean less funding for the Tahoe Conservancy.

“The legislation will expand support for the whole region, hopefully,” said Machida, who attended the conference and worked with Leslie and Laird on details of the bill.

Laird received a standing ovation after he ended his talk. But before he did, he took questions from the audience.

“What is it you need from us to bring this to completion in the state Senate and Assembly?” asked Stan Weidert, who traveled from Shingle Town, located east of Redding, to attend the conference.

“”It has got a good shot of going all the way … but as good as it looks, it’s never over until it’s over,” Laird said. “Contact the senators, the assemblymen and the governor. I think those contacts would be helpful.”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at