When Scarlett O’Hara was confronted with the imminent departure of her husband, she was too-late beside herself. “But what shall I do? Where will I go?” she cried. Her attempt to salvage their relationship came too late, she learned, and she lost the thing that was most important to her.
Though our values are considerably different from Scarlett and Rhett’s, that famous scene from Gone With the Wind always makes me determined to work hard for the things I value. Regret is not an emotion I enjoy. I love Kennedy Meadows and I’m hardly alone in that. As you may have heard, its future is up in the air. We need to roll up our sleeves and get to work right away.
“Yahoos and cowboys are ruining our land – we’ve got to get horses and cows off the trails and out of the meadows,” say some.
“Those wacko environmentalists are trying to turn Kennedy Meadows into wilderness. They plan to get rid of the pack station just like they’re doing with our check dams,” assert others.
“The Forest Service is at it again – Kennedy Meadows is next on the hit list! They want to tear down our historic buildings and drive the pack station out of business,” claim yet others.
These are just a few of the highly-charged and provocative accusations being tossed around as interest groups have begun to posture, anticipating the next great environmental battle over treasured areas in the Tuolumne County mountains. But what’s the truth and what’s to become of everyone’s beloved Kennedy Meadows? Like Scarlett and unlike Rhett, frankly we very much do give a damn.
The truth is that Kennedy Meadows’ future doesn’t have to be decided behind closed doors by folks we don’t know, most of whom already have their minds made up. The truth is that cultural resources there must be protected and preserved, along with the ecosystem. There are restoration needs to be addressed. The truth is that existing uses are valued and will be preserved in Kennedy Meadows and elsewhere on PG&E lands. That means the pack station and its historic buildings stay.
So the truth is yes, there will be some changes in Kennedy Meadows in the future, and there will be some things that won’t change, as well. But we have a common goal shared by all interest groups: Kennedy Meadows is our heritage. We want to enjoy it and keep it in good condition for our children and grandchildren. With that as a starting point, competing interests can be addressed and a balance can be achieved.
PG&E, Kennedy Meadows’ legal owner, is under court order to divest itself of 140,000 acres of land in 47 separate areas or “planning units” in California (mostly in the Sierra Nevada). Kennedy Meadows contains 244 of the acres subject to the court order. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will decide who gets Kennedy Meadows and how it will be managed, based on recommendations from the Stewardship Council (SC).
The SC, a nonprofit public benefit organization, is leading the lands’ evaluation effort and will make recommendations to the CPUC regarding either outright donation of the lands to public or private organizations or conservation easements to restrict future development of the lands. It is governed by a diverse Board of Directors that includes representatives of many different interests and industries. See the full list at: http://www.stewardshipcouncil.org/about_us/board_roster.htm. They are committed to consensus-based decisions and expect those interested in the properties to operate in the same fashion.
What does this mean for Kennedy Meadows? Certainly it means that it will be the center of intense public focus in the near future…
Kennedy Meadows is one of 4 properties that will serve as a pilot project to guide the disposition of the remainder of PG&E’s lands between 2008 and 2013. The Kennedy Meadows decision-making process allows – no, requires – a consensus-based recommendation from those who care most about it – all of us.
We can work out our own preferred solution and actively guide the fleshing-out of a final recommendation to the CPUC. That is, if we will agree to sit down together and negotiate the best way to insure good stewardship of all of Kennedy Meadows’ beneficial public uses and to achieve common goal.
To date, the SC has completed 2 components of the 3-volume Land Conservation Plan (LCP) and is awaiting their final adoption by the SC Board. Next comes Volume III:
- Volume I establishes the overall framework for the LCP (legal requirements, the planning process, methodologies, public involvement, and discussion of relevant regulatory processes) and
- Volume II outlines existing conditions and presents management objectives, potential measures, and conceptual plans to preserve or enhance the beneficial public values of the properties.
- The SC will shortly begin drafting Volume III, strategies for donating the lands and developing conservation easements, as well. While the timeline for completion of Volume III runs from 2008 through 2013 (and will also consider 2 other properties in Tuolumne County – near Lyons Reservoir and on the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus), it is highly likely that Kennedy Meadows’ future will be determined sometime in 2008.
Of approximately 1,000 public comment letters recently submitted to the SC on the statewide evaluations – draft Vols. I and II – close to 650 letters were written referencing preferred outcomes in Kennedy Meadows.
There is significant public interest in what happens there: interest in insuring the historic pack station continues to operate, in protecting cultural resources, and in improving and wisely stewarding the land there. Different agencies and groups have indicated their willingness to step up and own or manage Kennedy Meadows in the future, including the US Forest Service and the Tuolumne County RCD. There are others, as well.
Jayne Battey, Executive Director of the SC, and 2 members of the CPUC recently met with a dozen or so interested stakeholders in Kennedy Meadows to hear first-hand our comments on Volumes I and II and our concerns about the process of developing Volumne III.
As would be expected, a diverse group that included folks from the US Forest Service, the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians, CSERC, the Tuolumne County Resource Conservation District, the operator of Kennedy Meadows pack station, Congressman George Radanovich’s office, TuCARE, Tuolumne County and others wanted to talk about Volume III stuff. Who is best qualified to own and manage Kennedy Meadows. Various ones made strong and impassioned pitches for their particular interests, but the response from both SC and the CPUC was very clear. They are interested in consensus-based outcomes, not in conservation wars.
Next month, the SC plans to assign a neutral facilitator to our local discussions on the future of Kennedy Meadows. As you no doubt know, there are some significant trust issues between interest groups that we will have to deal with, but the facilitator will assist to maintain a level playing field. The facilitator will coordinate the process and see to it that those interested in the future of Kennedy Meadows have the opportunity to participate in the process. While it will be an added benefit to achieve “kumbaya” relationships in the process, that’s not our job.
Our job is to achieve an interest-based, respectful process and to come to agreement on the best management practices – to decide together who should care for Kennedy Meadows in perpetuity. Our focus will be to attain our common goal and to examine, weigh, and satisfy our various interests in the process.
Like Scarlett wanted to preserve the good things about her marriage, none of us want to lose those things we love about our Kennedy Meadows. Stay tuned. And please, participate.