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In Frisch’s view, consolidating the checkerboard is vital to economic sus- tainability well beyond the Sierra com- munities he represents. “The Trust for Public Land’s eff ort to make manage- ment more effi cient is really important to the entire state,” he says. “This re- gion is a source of water for two-thirds of Californians. As the Sierra forests go, so goes the water supply.” As the partnership plans for the years ahead, water is increasingly the determining factor in identifying conservation priorities. Years of drought and wildfi re—followed by a season of landslides and fl ash fl ooding—have un- derscored the importance of protecting the natural systems that capture, store, and release water over time. In the Sierra, that means zeroing in on sites that will contribute to the resiliency of the larger landscape as the climate changes. Of particular interest to The Trust for Public Land are alpine meadows, which act as fi re breaks and natural fi ltration systems and provide habitat for diverse plants and wildlife. The organization is working with the Forest Service to protect Forni Mead- ows, more than a hundred acres of former ranchland within the Eldorado National Forest. Though it has seen grazing and logging in the past, the land has been untouched for the past 20 years and is in good health—it even sup- ports a population of the endangered Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog. Forni Meadows is also the last private holding with access to Desolation Wilderness,

drilling toward protecting land and supporting community parks. Though it uses no taxpayer money and has strong bipartisan support, the fund is fre- quently raided for other purposes—and will expire altogether if not renewed by Congress in 2018.

one of the most-visited wilderness area in the country. Little wonder it has been on the Forest Service’s conservation wish list for more than 50 years. There’s a catch, though: the same meadowlands valuable for preserving water quality, wildlife habitat, and rec- reation access are also prime locations for development—and demand is high. Just as the downturn put places like Royal Gorge within reach for conserva- tionists, boom times in the Reno-Sparks metro and the San Francisco Bay Area are driving up land prices in the Tahoe region. Though the local workforce faces a housing crunch, most new construction is for second homes—like a billion-dollar expansion of the resort community at Squaw Valley. “It can feel insatiable,” says Bavinger. “Whenever you think the needs have been met, the pressure increases.”


As market forces and weather patterns shift, the funding climate is chang- ing, too. Much of the Northern Sierra Partnership’s accomplishments have benefi ted from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program that for half a century has funneled oil and gas companies’ fees for off shore


Uncertainty over how much—or even whether—the Land and Water Conser- vation Fund will contribute adds a layer of complexity to conservation in the Sierra. Nonetheless, Bavinger remains optimistic that the partnership’s close coordination and data-driven approach can continue to close the checker- board—and help communities get the most out of the land.

“Conservation is not about simply changing ownership from private to public,” she says. “Together, we’re also supporting restoration, trail building, and management approaches that can help meet people’s needs for income, recreation, and escape.” In these eff orts, the partnership relies on the support of locals and visitors alike—a conviction that whether the Sierra is your long summer vacation or quick weekend ski trip, your training ground, your workplace, or your home, you have a stake in its survival. In a place where natural forces are fi ckle and conservation opportunities can appear and disappear overnight, peo- ple’s love for these mountains, Bavinger says, is a constant. “So many people care about this

place,” she says. “When it comes down to it, they’ll step up to protect it. This is California’s big backyard.”

photo, page 38: emily scannell.

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