SAN FRANCISCO — Facing a host of environmental problems and a projected population explosion in the Sierra Nevada, a state-sponsored committee called Wednesday for a growth management plan and greater state funding for the fabled mountain range.
The committee, which sponsored last year's Sierra Summit to discuss the plight of the range, released 18 recommendations designed to foster better communication among affected agencies and develop strategies for building a sustainable Sierra economy.
"The Sierra Nevada should be viewed as the biggest, richest 'bank' in California," state Resources Secretary Douglas P. Wheeler said in releasing the report. "The mountain range is truly a tremendous asset for all Californians, and we must find ways to enjoy the 'interest' without depleting the capital."
While the proposals fell short of addressing the long-term ecological problems of the Sierra, state officials said the recommendations will prolong discussion among differing interest groups over the fate of the mountains.
The 430-mile-long range supplies half of California's water, much of its timber and tremendous opportunities for recreation. But in recent years it has suffered alarming levels of air pollution, soil erosion and excessive logging, among other problems.
Within 20 years, the population of its mountain and foothill communities is expected to double.
The committee, which included federal, state and local officials, logging interests and environmentalists, called for the creation of a Sierra Conservancy to help safeguard the range. The panel also called for better collection of data on the Sierra, adoption of a statewide growth management plan and a greater leadership role by community organizations in the Sierra.
The recommendations of the committee leaned heavily on economic development, including the creation of enterprise zones in the Sierra and incentives for the development of new industries for mountain communities.
Despite the state's budget crisis, the panel called for devoting more money for infrastructure projects in the mountains and for passage of a bond measure that would provide funds for Sierra preservation.
"Rather than relying on circumstance or on the courts to make the vital resource decisions that will be necessary," said Wheeler, the committee chairman, "the people of the region need to begin developing a common vision of the future for the mountain range so as to protect the livelihoods and aspirations of residents while conserving the natural resources that are so important to all Californians."