Diana Madson
Diana Madson
Government Affairs Director

Policy Recommendations to Benefit the Sierra Part Three: Regional Economic Development

This post is Part Three of a five part series detailing the content of Sierra CAMP’s newly released “Sierra CAMP’s Policy Recommendations for the 2017 Update of Safeguarding California: Reducing Climate Risk” (the state’s climate adaptation plan).Barn

Click here to view the full report.

We have broken the report into five sections, each of which will have its own blog post describing the topic area’s current policy landscape followed by our recommendations. The five topic areas include: Integrated Watershed Management, Forest Restoration, Regional Economic Development, Preparedness and Public Health, and Structural Recommendations.

Part 3 of 5: Regional Economic Development

Current Status: In the Sierra Nevada, many rural communities are dependent on tourism, recreation, water, timber, grazing and fisheries – all industries directly affected by the impacts of climate change on local natural resources. We are already seeing the instability caused by climate change, which disproportionately affects our region, in timber, agriculture, and tourism-based industries.

The unique economic challenges of the Sierra also make it less adaptable to dramatic community change. Fewer options for occupations, lower earnings rates, higher poverty levels and dependence on government transfer payments (e.g. social security, pensions and CalWorks ) are common characteristics of these rural areas. The central and northern Sierra Nevada region has unemployment rates exceeding 20%. One in five Sierra Nevada residents lives below the poverty line, a number that is consistently higher than the rest of California. Rural economies continue to suffer as families move in search of employment opportunities – in 2010, the region lost 145,000 jobs as a result of companies closing. The twelve counties entirely within the Sierra region have witnessed declining populations each year since 2007.

Sierra Business Council works on many aspects of rural sustainable economic development, including small business development, sustainable tourism, and improving access to capital. Planning for climate adaptation and mitigation can be a critical component of a long-term rural economic strategy by linking job creation to achieving climate goals.

Our Recommendations: Sierra CAMP has several recommendations for state policy actions that can help restore economic resilience to our rural communities and strengthen their vulnerability to climate change. Our suggestions focus on two main categories of improvement: 1) investing in rural economic development that supports restoration-based economies and, 2) promoting downstream urban investment in upstream natural resources.

A restoration-based economy involves local businesses that address restoration, climate adaptation and mitigation within the private sector and also improves the state of natural, social and financial capital in communities and ecosystems. Examples of ways restoration economies can be deployed are available in the full report.

Sierra CAMP suggests investing in rural economic development by:COMM Blog NM ToTcropped 2015 08

  • Increasing the Affordable Housing Sustainable Communities’ (AHSC) Rural Innovation Project Area (RIPA) program from 10% to 20% of funds
  • Adding tribal lands to the list of entities eligible to apply for AHSC funds
  • Leveraging the GGRF (Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund) budget to address lasting economic sustainability as part of meeting climate change goals. For example, improving the readiness of local businesses to adapt to extreme weather events and emergencies like wildfire, measuring the progress of restoration economy incubation, launching small business and economic development centers, and improving access to capital for small business owners.

Another important tenet of Sierra CAMP is promoting the downstream urban investment in upstream issues to bridge the gap between different regions of California that are dependent on the same natural resources. We suggest exploring alternative financing options to leverage downstream capital to fund upstream resiliency projects and create local jobs. An additional recommendation to achieve this goal is to expand partnerships between urban and rural organizations by emphasizing the co-benefits of restoration projects.

Promoting the regional economic development in the Sierra is an important step in creating a resilient region and is an essential facet of the 2017 update of the state’s climate adaptation plan, Safeguarding California: Reducing Climate Risk. The next part of this five part blog series will be Part Four: Public Health and Preparedness. To catch up on our previous Safegaurding Reccomendations, read Part One, Integrated Watershed Management, and Part Two, Forest Restoration.