Tahoe’s natural resources lauded by business council
The Sierra Nevada has an unlimited amount of wealth. Not necessarily of monetary worth, but according to the Sierra Nevada Wealth Index, the region is rich in its natural resources and the quality of life it offers to its inhabitants.
Local business owners heard a special presentation Thursday, on the current conditions and trends of the Sierra Nevada region by Dr. Amy Horn, a research director for the Sierra Business Council. Hosted by the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, the presentation focused on the natural resources, or assets, that shape the Sierra Nevada region and how business people could better understand them to help build the quality-of-life in their respective counties.
“Our hope is that you stand back from the individual indicators (of how the assets are doing) and when you put them together, they tell us a story of what the Sierra Nevada is doing,” Hall said.
The council is a group of business professionals working to secure the economic and environmental health of the Sierra Nevada. For this reason they developed the Sierra Nevada Wealth Index, from which Hall cited her information, detailing the social, natural and financial capital which make up the wealth of the region.
“Defining wealth is more than monetary worth, but it is different types of natural, social and financial capital that together, make up the riches of a region,” Hall said. “Relationships need to be developed with all three(versions of wealth) without diminishing any of them.”
Following is a summary of the overall findings on the three areas of wealth Hall described- social, natural, and financial capital.
Social Capital: Social capital in the Sierra Nevada is generally strong. The quality of education is high demonstrated by high school seniors consistently outperforming the California average on the standard college entrance exam(SAT). Other indicators of social capital strength include income distribution more equal than in California as a whole; housing is more affordable; and violent crime levels are half of those statewide.
The Sierra Nevada has also had the third fastest growing population of any region in California since 1990. After tripling to 664,000 between 1970 and 1998, the region’s population is expected to surpass one million by 2020.
Natural Capital: The natural capital in the Sierra Nevada exhibits both strengths and weaknesses. Acreage of grapes is increasing and cattle production is steady. Troubling trends include the rapid loss of farmland in the north central counties, where thousands of acres of valuable fruit orchards and nut trees have been lost. Fire hazard is significant on 45 percent of the Sierra Nevada landscape. Air quality is declining due to both particulate matter and ozone, the primary sources of these pollutants coming from roads and motor vehicles. Lake Tahoe clarity continues to decline despite millions of dollars invested.
Financial Capital: Overall the Sierra Nevada is prospering financially, specifically in the north central counties of Nevada, Placer and El Dorado counties. Per capita income in the North Central Sierra exceeds the California average and investment in high-speed Internet access is substantial. Region wide, tourism, which is dependent on the natural advantages of the Sierra, now accounts for 15 percent of the region’s total payroll.
Overall, the technological and population increases in the Sierra Nevada has given it increased prosperity, but at the cost of less agricultural land and increased air and water pollution, Hall said. Trends to continue to improve educational standards and personal incomes should continue as there are certain areas of the region who are struggling in these areas.
“The bottom line is that the Sierra Nevada’s social and natural capital is critical to holding its economic capital,” Hall said. “In Lake Tahoe tourism is very important here and the quality of life is essential to retain that.”
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