Regional Climate Change

Program Goal

Engage and support efforts to adopt and implement exemplary sustainable city and regional plans across the Sierra. Exemplary sustainable plans work to protect and restore Sierra waters, lands, wildlife and communities and incorporate climate change adaptation principles, while meeting or exceeding the most aggressive statewide or national greenhouse gas emission reduction legislation.

Our Background in Climate Change Work

In 2018, the Alliance has begun to expand the focus of technical assistance to communities who passed 100% resolutions in 2017. In order to help achieve the 100% Renewable Energy Resolutions in South Lake Tahoe and Truckee–initiatives the Alliance facilitated–it is apparent that immediate capacity building and actions are needed. The Alliance has hired two new staff through Local Government Commission’s CivicSpark AmeriCorps program, which seeks to help build capacity for local governments and nonprofits as well as build community resilience. Climate Fellows Meredith Anderson and Sam Ruderman have joined the Sierra Nevada Alliance team and their work is focused in three areas: Greenhouse Gas Inventorying and Forecasting for the City of South Lake Tahoe; developing and implementing specific guidelines for Sustainability Actions for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency; and working regionally to collaborate on and promote climate actions and initiatives throughout the Lake Tahoe Basin. The hope is that their efforts will later template and duplicate itself across the Sierra.


CivicSpark AmeriCorps Program

CivicSpark is a Governor’s Initiative AmeriCorps program dedicated to building capacity for local governments to address community resilience issues such as: climate change, water resource management, and access to opportunities. Sam and Meredith will serve for 11 months (September 2018-August 2019), and in collaboration with local government staff, they will implement a number of sustainability projects, while also building long-term capacity to ensure the work is sustained after their service year is completed. They are fired up to be working on such important climate initiatives and are excited to contribute to making a positive impact in the Sierra. The Alliance’s Executive Director, Jenny Hatch, is thrilled to be building the Climate Program capacity and encourages other communities to reach out if they are interested in this type of support.


City of South Lake Tahoe

In April 2017, the City Council of South Lake Tahoe passed a resolution committing to the goals of achieving 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and 100% renewable energy by 2050. This effort was led by the Alliance with assistance and support from a variety of partners and stakeholders throughout the Basin. To reach these goals–as well as the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets set by California’s SB 32 legislation–it is necessary for the City of South Lake Tahoe to have an accurate understanding of the current state of their GHG emissions. Completing an updated, city-specific Greenhouse Gas Inventory is therefore the vital next-step before the CSLT can move forward in its climate planning.
Once the Inventory is completed, it will be necessary to model and forecast future emissions across a number of likely scenarios, taking into account factors such as historical data, population growth rate, local economic trends, technological innovation, and expected development. These projections can then inform the decisions of those working on climate planning and can allow them to consider which actions are best suited to reduce emissions. A Climate Action Plan (CAP) can then begin to be drafted to lay out the steps needed to reach renewable energy and GHG emissions reductions targets. Ultimately, the Alliance hopes to assist in developing and implementing a CAP for the CSLT.
Reducing the carbon footprint of its own government operations is another objective that has been identified by the City, and the Climate Fellows will be examining a number of opportunities to achieve this goal. Installing solar on municipal buildings is one option that is currently being explored, as is the transformation of the government vehicle fleet over to all electric vehicles. Facilities Energy Audits will also be a key component in identifying further emissions reductions opportunities.


Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

Recognizing the need to embrace sustainability and all planning and implementation activities in the Lake Region, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) published a Sustainability Action Plan in 2013. The purpose of this report was to provide tools to assist local governments, agencies, businesses, residents, visitors and community groups with prioritizing and adopting consistent sustainability actions throughout the region. The Sustainability
Action Plan represents an integrated approach to reducing GHG emissions and striving toward zero-impact in all aspects of sustainability.
The Plan includes numerous sustainability and GHG reduction actions that can be undertaken by Regional agencies and local jurisdictions. The Alliance is examining this menu of actions in order to determine which are the most appropriate for the CSLT and may be the most effective in reducing emissions. Other considerations include the associated environmental co-benefits, both private and public costs, job generation, and overall feasibility.
With a focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy, our Climate Fellows have decided to investigate El Dorado County’s current Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Financing Program, which offers financing to property owners for energy efficiency retrofits and renewable energy installations. This allows property owners to invest with minimal financial risk. Simultaneously the municipality benefits by gaining progress toward emissions reductions targets with little or no investment from general funds.
In conjunction with this Action, we will be pursuing capital improvements to reduce energy consumption through energy efficiency retrofits and upgrades in public facilities. Incorporating renewable energy installations at these facilities will also be a priority. Together, this may look something like replacing old street lights with new, solar powered LED light bulbs. These measures will act to reduce energy consumption, increase monetary energy savings, and improve the energy independence and resiliency of the region.

While a majority of Sierra Nevada Alliance’s climate work will be happening in the South Lake Tahoe area, the Fellows will engage in regional coordination with other climate-focused organizations and support the implementation of climate actions within the Basin and Town of Truckee. Through these local climate initiatives, Sierra Nevada Alliance hopes to generate valuable resources and provide guidance for other communities within the Sierra. Ultimately this will allow the Basin to most effectively and efficiently take on the challenge of tackling climate change.


The Problem

Population Growth and Climate Change are among the most significant threats facing the Sierra Nevada, one of the fastest growing regions in California. Sprawling development is increasing vehicle miles and greenhouse gas emissions, destroying rare habitat and agricultural lands, and straining natural resources upon which our communities depend. Climate change compounds these problems and contributes a new host of concerns for snowpack levels, water management and recreation, wildlife, and the frequency and severity of fires.

Population Growth

Increasing Vehicle Miles Traveled and GHG Emissions

  • In the core Sierra Nevada Counties, from 1990 to 2003 there were approximately 35% more registered vehicles, and 348 new miles of city and county roads.

Leading to Sprawling Development on Sierra Nevada “Open Space”

    • By 2040, almost 20 percent of the Sierra’s current private forests and range lands could be affected by projected development.
    • At least 33% of the region is privately owned and therefore more vulnerable to development. Destroying Rare Wildlife Habitat.
    • Almost two-thirds of riparian habitat – almost 600,000 acres – is privately owned in Sierra Nevada.
Climate Change
Increasing Fire Risk
  • Between 1990 and 2000, 97% of the Sierra’s growth occurred in areas designated as extreme or very high fire threat.
  • Nearly 70 percent of the Sierra Region’s forests and range lands are ecologically at risk from wildfire.

Impacting Wildlife Migration and Habitat

  • More than half of Sierra species have shifted their ranges upward by as much as 1,600 feet in elevation over the past 90 years due to climate change.
  • Two-thirds of more than 5,500 native plan species in California are expected to reduce their range as much as 80% by the end of the century.
  • Pika, adapted to cold climates, historically they lived at about 5,700 feet above sea level but now averages higher than 8,000 feet. The extinction of several sub-populations is highly correlated to climate change and their inability to adapt to warmer temperatures.

Melting Snow and Ice

  • By mid-century, spring snow pack in the Sierra Nevada is projected to decline about 25-40%. Toward the end of the century, losses could reach up to 90%.

The Alliance’s Background in Climate Change Work

The Sierra Nevada Alliance has a long history of supporting sustainable planning. Since 1998 Alliance staff have actively partnered with member groups and allies to develop and implement local and regional resources plans that serve as models for a resilient and thriving Sierra region that successfully faces economic, environmental and societal challenges, including climate change. Specifically this has included working with community groups to create and adopt county-wide general plans based on smart-growth objectives and principles – including the protection of open space; participating in efforts to develop model Sustainable Community Strategies (required under passage of SB 375 to reduce GHG emissions) – including by participating with the Lake Tahoe Sustainability Collaborative and supporting the Fresno Sustainable Communities Strategy (the only SCS involving the Sierra foothills). Outside of land use planning, the Alliance has tracked, supported and helped create robust Sierra Integrated Regional Water Management Plans and has tracked and supported efforts to develop and adopt national forest plans that demonstrate consideration of its resources in the face of climate change. On a more local level, the Alliance’s Sustainable Community Strategies program focused on individual and community-based actions to create a more sustainable Sierra including through thoughtful landscaping, green stormwater management infrastructure and through energy efficiency partnership and outreach. Sierra communities often lack the resources (funding), capacity and expertise to explore and attempt innovative solutions to growth and development pressures, and to increasing demands for energy, water, wastewater and sewer needs.

The Alliance is excited to continue its involvement in smart land use planning, community development and community sustainability efforts. The Alliance believes that, given the anti-environmental position of our national government post the 2016 election, ramping up local and regional efforts to build more resilient communities that reflect concern for and value of the natural environment is more important than ever.

Our Vision for the Future

Sierra county and regional resource plans promote smart land use, incorporate sustainable water management practices, aggressively reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to climate change to ensure resilience of Sierra communities, watersheds, and wildlife. There are multiple exemplarily sustainable regional and community-wide plans in seven geographic regions of the Sierra. These model resource plans incorporate climate change adaptation principles and/or are consistent with or exceed the most aggressive greenhouse gas emission reduction targets identified in state or national legislation. In addition, every major community in the Sierra Nevada has made a commitment and is actively working to implement a plan to transition to 100% renewable energy sources by 2050.


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2012-2013 Member Group Directory(Adobe Acrobat PDF Format)
Updated in September of 2012 for the Alliance’s Annual Conference, this is a directory of Alliance Member Groups on conservation issues in the Sierra Nevada. The Sierra Nevada Alliance prepared this directory to assist Sierra conservation organizations, agencies, interested public and the media with locating and contacting conservation organizations in the region. It should also be used as an informational resource for those interested in learning more about the kind of conservation work being undertaken throughout the Sierra Nevada.

2012-2013 Sustainability Inventory (Adobe Acrobat PDF Format)
The Sustainability inventory is a directory of non-profit organizations that are working on sustainability issues within the Sierra Nevada. We hope this inventory will be utilized as a tool to showcase a wide range of sustainability efforts categorized by issues such as local food, smart growth, transportation, etc. to assist individuals, organizations, local agencies and governmental organization in locating and collaborating on sustainable community initiatives within their area.2013-2014


Sierra Sustainability and Conservation Group Directory (Adobe Acrobat PDF Format)
Updated in August of 2011 for the Alliance’s Annual Conference, this is a directory of organizations that work on conservation issues in the Sierra Nevada. The Sierra Nevada Alliance prepared this directory to assist Sierra conservation organizations, agencies, interested public and the media with locating and contacting conservation organizations in the region. It should also be used as an informational resource for those interested in learning more about the kind of conservation work being undertaken throughout the Sierra Nevada.


Case Study: Transition Towns(Adobe Acrobat PDF Format)
In its first-ever case study publication, the Sierra Nevada Alliance highlights Nevada City, California and North Hampton, Massachusetts in their quests to create sustainable communities. Read on to learn about North Hampton’s development of a Sustainability Plan that ultimately led to increased pedestrian trails, green building codes, and enhanced community dialogue. The case study also highlights Nevada City’s community-wide effort to divest from fossil fuels. The case study features the city’s creation of a sustainability hub made successful through grassroots efforts and inspired volunteers.


Sierra Friendly Landscaping Cookbook(Adobe Acrobat PDF Format)
This Sierra Friendly Landscaping Cookbook is a resource designed to help organizations, agencies or local governments start and coordinate Sierra Friendly Landscaping Programs. This “Cookbook” outlines steps and “ingredients” for designing a Sierra Friendly Landscaping outreach program. This reference includes the necessary resources to launch and implement a program, from tactics for inspiring homeowners to sign up and participate, to providing valuable resources to homeowners enabling them to implement Sierra Friendly Landscaping. Programs can offer free site evaluations, site plans, incentives and assistance in implementing landscapes that are Sierra Friendly.


3rd edition Sierra Climate Change Toolkit 2011 (Adobe Acrobat PDF Format)
The Sierra Climate Change Toolkit, 3rd Edition is the newest publication from the Sierra Nevada Alliance. This one-of-a-kind resource is designed specifically for Sierra resource managers, local governments, planners, non-profits, activists, and concerned citizens looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change in order to save money, enhance local economies, and protect our unique rural communities. As the only Sierra-specific climate change resource, the cutting-edge Sierra Climate Change Toolkit, 3rd Edition is a comprehensive starting point for those interested in addressing climate change in Sierra watersheds and communities. It is greatly expanded from previous editions, with more detail, new resources, and an expanded focus on both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change within existing planning processes throughout the Sierra. The Toolkit covers a wide range of topics, including: the science of climate change and impacts at the global, national, state, and regional levels; the national, state, and regional context in which climate change emission reduction and adaptation efforts are occurring; frameworks, specific strategies, and case studies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change impacts through existing planning processes in the Sierra; tools to help communicate climate change and build support for local action; additional resources to help specific planning processes or projects address climate change.


Planning for Water-Wise Development in the Sierra. A Water and Land Use Policy Guide(Adobe Acrobat PDF Format)
Poorly planned development has become a chief threat to the region’s waters. But what is good growth, from a watershed perspective? This guide provides local conservation groups, local government and the public useful information about the connection between development and water – water quality, water supplies and the health of the Sierra’s watersheds.


1) Summary of the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project Report, University of California, Davis, Centers for Water and Wildland Resources, 1996, p.15. 2) US Census Report 2010, US Census Bureau, 2010,
3) Planning for the Future: Sierra Land Use Index, Sierra Nevada Alliance, 2005, p. ii.
4) Planning for the Future: Sierra Land Use Index, Sierra Nevada Alliance, 2005, p. 5.
5) Fire and Resource Assessment, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 2010, p. 89.
6) Fire and Resource Assessment, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 2010, Chapter 3, p.12.
7) Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2009, available from:

8) A Brief History of Great Basin Pikas, Donald Grayson, Journal of Biogeography, 2005,vol. 32,p. 12: 2103-2111.
9) Measured Black Carbon Deposition on the Sierra Nevada Snow Pack and Implication for Snow Pack Retreat, O.Hadley et al., Atmos. Chem. Phys., 2010, vol. 10:7505-7513, available from: