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Prop 68: An Unprecedented Amount of Funding for Natural Resources in the Sierra Region

Local nonprofit leaders weigh in on measure's potential impact
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The signs of spring are everywhere. Snow melting, daffodils blooming, afternoon thunderstorms — and election signs on nearly every major intersection and thoroughfare in Truckee and North Tahoe.

It’s a noteworthy election year, and not just because of the various local and regional candidates voters have to choose from. The June 5 primary election will include, among other ballot initiatives, a $4 billion bond measure for parks, water, and natural resources.

If it passes, California Proposition 68 will authorize an unprecedented amount of funding for watershed management, forest restoration, wildfire prevention, and other natural resource projects that are vital to the Sierra region. Approximately $142 million of Prop 68’s funds will be allocated directly to the resource-rich rural areas of the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges. Organizations working on behalf of rural California won’t have to compete with other areas of the state for funding.

Instead, funds allocated directly for this region will be split among three conservancies: $55 million to be used for general funding and forest health will be distributed to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, $27 million dedicated toward general funding will go to the California Tahoe Conservancy, and $60 million for Sierra-Cascade watershed health will go to the Wildlife Conservation Board. The three conservancies will then parse out Prop 68 money to grantees with projects that fit the definition of each bucket of funding.

Local stakeholders and nonprofit leaders in the community are coming together to urge a yes vote on Prop 68. From climate resiliency plans to watershed health to forest management, environmental project managers are anticipating the opportunity to apply for funding dollars.

“There is an unprecedented amount of funding directed specifically to the Sierra-Cascade region, which is unlike previous bonds, where our region has been left out or there hasn’t been much money directed to it,” said Kerri Timmer, vice president of climate and energy at the Sierra Business Council.

The Sierra Business Council, which is based in Truckee and works on behalf of the entire Sierra region, has played an integral role in advocating for more funding to be directed to the area and bringing Prop 68 to the ballot.

Prop 68 also allocates $725 million to “park-poor” neighborhoods throughout the state, ensuring that all Californians have access to safe and accessible outdoor spaces. Most of the communities that would receive this funding are urban, but dividing up the proposition monies ahead of time works in the Sierra’s favor due to a system that often leaves out rural areas.

“There are a lot of urban communities that don’t have access to parks and open spaces, so this is very focused on making sure these park-poor communities are getting first crack,” Timmer said. “The funding [for the Sierra-Cascade] covers a range of activities, from land conservation and land management to watershed health and drinking water quality to fire risk reduction and forest health. Embedded within all of those as well is of course the recreation opportunities that are either protected or enhanced by all of this.”

Recreation is the cornerstone of the Truckee/Tahoe region. As a parks and water bond, Prop 68 acknowledges that conservation and outdoor recreation are intrinsically — and, if the bill passes, legally — linked.

"Proposition 68 is vitally important to all of us who care for the Sierra Nevada," said Perry Norris, executive director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust. "The funding would be a critical source for the Land Trust's future conservation projects, as well as for managing and enhancing the properties already in our care."

The Truckee Donner Land Trust, which is responsible for the conservation of areas such as Webber Lake, Lacey Meadows, and Independence Lake, is another nonprofit in the region urging a yes vote on Prop 68.

"Protecting these open spaces is not only important for conservation and recreation,” Norris explained, “but also for protecting meadows and headwaters crucial to California's water supply, and for strengthening the Sierra's resiliency in the face of climate change.”

One of the most important natural resources in the state, the Sierra is responsible for over 60 percent of California’s water supply, according to Sierra Business Council. The Truckee River Watershed Council Foriver, another local supporter of Prop 68, works to restore, enhance, and protect Lake Tahoe’s only outlet.

“The Truckee River and the watershed that feeds it need our help,” said Foriver Executive Director Lisa Wallace. “Years of erosion, sedimentation and contamination led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to list the Truckee as polluted.”

Despite its seemingly pristine waters, the Truckee river, like most of the Truckke/Tahoe area, is impacted by development, pollution, and climate change. Currently, limited funding for natural resources throughout the state means that rural areas of the Sierra are sometimes given the short straw when it comes to state funding.

“We have 50 large-scale restoration projects waiting to be completed. Funds from Prop 68 will help us get that work done,” Wallace said. “We’re all experiencing the increasing, local impacts of climate change with every passing season. The more resilient our ecosystems, the better the protections for water quality, biodiversity, and water supply in our region.”

And the stronger these protections are, advocates say, the better for recreation.

“This is a great pot of funding that would enhance the recreation experience and ultimately improve and enhance the infrastructure experience,” said Dave Polivy, owner of Tahoe Mountain Sports and a Truckee liaison to the national recreation community. “It would allow us to make enhancements that benefit the economy and the environment at the same time.”

Polivy also serves as a board member for the Tahoe Backcountry Alliance, an access coalition that advocates on behalf of human-powered winter backcountry sports.

“Tahoe Backcountry Alliance’s concerns go hand-in-hand with Prop 68,” Polivy stated. “The money from this bond furthers our goals of addressing issues related to the impacts and interests of outdoor recreation from roadways to parking areas to trail heads.”

As Prop 68’s signature blue and teal signs pop up among the spring’s wildflowers and greenery, local stakeholders are eager for the community to get out and vote in favor of this bond on June 5.

To learn more about the bond, visit the official website.

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February 14, 2019