Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation: Speaking Up for the Voiceless
Each winter, a herd of migratory Pacific mule deer returns to a 23,000-acre range in the Sierra Nevada. When the herd’s winter home was in danger of being developed as a dirt bike park 30 years ago, a group of local El Dorado County residents joined forces to stop it. Discovering that by speaking up they could make an impact, the small group continued to take on issues that threatened the area’s wildlife habitat.
Today, the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation (CSNC) remains active in advocating for local, state, and federal policies that will better protect the Eldorado National Forest’s voiceless: its wildlife and water resources.
“The mid-’80s was a time when there were many threats to our public lands,” says Karen Schambach, one of CSNC’s founders. “At the same time, the Eldorado was in the midst of creating a new forest plan designed to guide the forest for the next 15-20 years. We wanted to create a way for citizens to engage in the planning process.”
Since then, CSNC has influenced many land use decisions with the health of the forest’s wildlife and watersheds in mind. In recent years, it shifted to a more active role in watershed restoration, creating an effective program with grant funding and a partnership with the Eldorado where volunteers do physical work to repair damaged watersheds.
“Watersheds face death by a thousand cuts, quite literally,” Schambach asserts. “We perform weekly restoration projects with about 50 volunteers. Some people come to help almost every week, others once a year. Our small projects don’t require heavy equipment; we use rakes, shovels, and hoes to fill ruts, build water bars, and disguise unauthorized vehicle intrusions before they become established and turn into serious watershed threats.” In turn, volunteers are rewarded with a day in the forest where they learn about watershed protection, wildlife, and plants and enjoy the company of like-minded people.
The projects were designed and led by two AmeriCorps volunteers: Ben Jenkins and Kaitlin Raven. “[The organization] began having SNAP (Sierra Nevada AmeriCorps Partnership) volunteers in 2014,” explains Schambach. “Ben and Kaitlin are our fourth generation of AmeriCorps leaders. They’ve finished their terms this fall and how we will take a break from restoration projects.”
One of CSNC’s numerous accomplishments was changing the way the U.S. Forest Service regulates off-road vehicles (ORVs). The group advocated for the effects of ORV use to be analyzed, and then for action to be taken to manage the damaging use accordingly. The result of this local effort became the Travel Management Rule, a national regulation that requires the U.S. Forest Service to monitor ORV use on forest roads and trails, protecting wildlife habitats and watersheds.
CSNC’s work is funded by the State Off-Highway Vehicle Division of State Parks, the Rose Foundation, California Alpine Club Foundation, and by member dues and fundraisers.
Schambach is optimistic for the future of CSNC’s work and encourages nature enthusiasts to help be a voice for the Sierra Nevada. “We’re always looking for people with an interest in our national forests to join us!” sierranevadaconservation.org
by Janet Scherr // photos by Dante fontana