The Sierra Fund

Of the Sierra and for the Sierra

Nevada City, CA   |  https://www.sierrafund.org/

Mission

The Sierra Fund (TSF) is a place-based organization committed to the land and people of California’s Sierra Nevada headwaters, which includes 25 million acres, a third of the state’s area, and all or part of 22 rural counties. We rely on the principles of science, stewardship, environmental justice, and policy advocacy to operationalize our mission to restore ecosystem and community resiliency in the Sierra Nevada.

Ruling year info

2002

CEO

Ms. Elizabeth Martin

Main address

204 Providence Mine Road, Suite 214

Nevada City, CA 95959 USA

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EIN

68-0485725

NTEE code info

Natural Resource Conservation and Protection (C30)

Community Foundations (T31)

Alliance/Advocacy Organizations (S01)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Communication

Blog

Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

TSF recognizes that a focus on the impacts of the 19th century Gold Rush is a critical strategic role for our organization because the Sierra Nevada region’s mining history provides an important, and often missing context in which to address other pressing issues in both the headwaters and statewide. While global climate change may be the defining environmental issue of our day, California’s policymakers focus on climate change has failed to identify the need to address legacy mining in tandem with emerging impacts to mines, meadows, forests, and fish. The Sierra Nevada has been swept by economic and social changes precipitated by the Gold Rush that are just as disturbing as the environmental changes, and just as difficult to recover from. Only recently has the threat to the region’s natural resources, and the cruel history of its colonization, become visible to the state at large. The task of rebuilding vibrant, resilient communities in the face of decades of upheaval has just begun.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Ecosystem Resiliency Program (ERP)

The Sierra Fund’s Ecosystem Resiliency Program works to assess and restore forest, meadow, and river ecosystems impacted by the Gold Rush with projects that fill critical data gaps, advance the development of best practices, inform policy and demonstrate multiple benefits to water quality, water storage, climate adaptation, forest health, and cultural revitalization.

“It is critical to understand the origins of disturbance in the Sierra to develop effective restoration efforts in a dynamic system. Restoring resiliency in the headwaters of our state will help us to withstand the ongoing pressures of climate change and population growth. The Sierra Fund relies on scientifically rigorous assessment methods to measure the effectiveness of restoration and innovative approaches to increasing restoration opportunities across the headwaters.” Carrie Monohan, Ph.D., Program Director

Background
The Sierra Fund has been working to address the impacts of the 19th century Gold Rush as a seminal disturbance that resulted in long lasting environmental, cultural and health impacts to the ecosystems and communities of the Sierra Nevada. Impacts of the Gold Rush went far beyond those caused by gold mining. Not only were more than 40,000 mines left abandoned across the landscape, each with chemical and physical hazards, but nearly every tree in the region was harvested to build the towns and to timber the mines of the gold and silver strikes on the western and eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada. The majority of rivers and creeks were dammed, and thousands of miles of ditches were dug to convey water to the hydraulic, placer and hard rock mines so that mountain could be torn apart in the quest for gold. Rocks, gravels and sands from the mines contaminated with mercury were washed down the rivers in such volume that about one-third of the San Francisco Bay was filled in, and the former estuary was drowned in mud, forcing river boat pilots to dredge channels for passage, creating the forerunner of the levee and channel system that makes up the modern Delta.

The Sierra Fund’s Vision for Restoring Ecosystem Resiliency
Resiliency is the ability to recover from disruptive change and withstand ongoing pressures. The ability to recover from change is directly proportional to the size and extent of the disturbance and the degree to which an ecosystem can tolerate disturbance. Ecosystems have developed around “natural disturbance regimes” where change is a constant and critical component of dynamic function (water levels rise and fall, temperatures change with seasonality). As a result of continuous change, the dynamics of systems select for resiliency, or ability to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a different state that is controlled by a different set of processes.

The Sierra Fund is interested restoring the processes that maintain and maximize resiliency in the Sierra. The disturbance regimes critical to ecosystem resiliency in the Sierra Nevada include the flow regime, sediment regime, fire regime and climate regime. The natural variability of these disturbance regimes is key to ecosystem resiliency but this variability has been fundamentally altered by the impacts of the California Gold Rush and climate change.

The Sierra Fund’s vision is a restored flow regime, a restored fire regime and a restored climate regime that leaves a thriving and vibrant ecosystem for generations to come. Key to this vision is restoring the mine scared lands, reintroducing the use of prescribed fire and sequestering carbon in the soil. The Sierra Fund’s goal is to increasing the pace and scale of mine remediation, meadow restoration and forest health projects in a way that increases interest in and access to stewardship opportunities for the communities of the Sierra.

Key to this approach is engaging the First Nations of the Sierra, on whose ancestral homelands projects are planned, so that meaningful actions that work to restore ecosystem resiliency are executed in tandem with efforts to support community resiliency.

Water Flow Regime
In the 1800s, California’s streams and rivers were engineered to deliver water to the mines and today are operated to deliver water and power during periods of peak demand. The system’s ability to meet the increased demands for water and power, as well as environmental flows, may depend on maintaining the water storage space behind impoundments California relies on, as well as restoring the “green infrastructure” of the headwaters, such as meadows, that hold water higher, longer and release it slowly over extended periods of time.

Sediment Regime
The hydraulic mine sites that were denuded of soil, result in a landscape littered with scars which deliver unprecedented amounts of sediment to streams and rivers. These scars continue to erode and release sediment contaminated with mercury, choking streams with turbid conditions and filling reservoirs. The system’s ability to handle increased sediment loads from denuded mine-scarred landscapes and from overgrazed meadows is dependent on both remediation efforts that abate erosion and on sediment removal efforts coupled with reservoir maintenance that are sophisticated enough to address mercury contamination at the same time.
Fire Regime
In the fire adapted landscape of the Sierra Nevada, fire is a natural part of the ecosystem function and resiliency of the region. Fire plays a role in seed germination and forest stand diversity. The region-wide removal of timber for the mining operations followed by an era of fire suppression resulted in today’s single-age stands, which are choked with underbrush and full of invasive species. The result is an ongoing threat of severe mega fires, the likes of which the region has not seen before, including in areas that are now populated. The system’s ability to handle fire, and to recover from severe fire, is directly proportional to continued coordination of forest thinning, invasive species removal, and fire treatment efforts.
Climate Regime
The greatest pressure the Sierra Nevada ecosystems face today is climate change. Longer droughts and warmer temperatures mean that precipitation will be dominated, by rain fall, not snow, resulting in a “flashy” system characterized by increased power for erosion and less water late in the season due to decreased snow pack. The ultimate response to climate change is to reduce emissions from catastrophic wildfire and to sequester carbon by building soil in the headwaters. Building soil carbon to create a net carbon sink will include restoring high elevation meadow wetlands and creating biochar as part of forest treatments and using it to restore soil as part of hydraulic mine remediation.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people
Indigenous peoples

The Sierra Fund’s Environmentally Healthy Communities Program (EHCP) advances sustainable community health outcomes by preventing public exposure to legacy mining contaminants found in fish and dust, engaging priority populations in projects to reduce the impacts of wildfire smoke, and supporting opportunities for indigenous people to employ traditional ecological knowledge via land stewardship.

“The Sierra Fund believes that an environmentally healthy community has these elements: A healthy place to live, work and raise a family, and residents who are empowered to protect and, if needed, restore these resources.” Alex Keeble-Toll, Administrative Director

Background
In the 19th century, The Sierra Nevada was swept by economic and social changes just as disturbing as the environmental changes, and just as difficult to recover from. It is not possible to address social, environmental, and political issues in this state without recognizing the pivotal role that gold mining played in shaping the current health of headwater ecosystems and communities.

Before the Gold Rush, California had been inhabited by many thousands of people – hundreds of individual indigenous nations– that had been actively managing the landscape for millennia. The Indigenous First Nations of the region were savagely removed from the landscape in the hunt for gold, thus ending an era of intricate and effective sustainable resource management.

Current residents of the headwaters contend with the constant threat of wildfire and unsafe air quality, exposure to dust contaminated with arsenic, asbestos, and lead, often while on public lands, and the risk of consuming fish high in neurotoxic mercury. As a direct result of 19th century extractive activities, the environment of the headwaters is strewn with hazards that pose a threat to residents and visitors via multiple exposure pathways. To those from outside the area, and even to locals, the dangerous implications of recreating in the Sierra are imperceptible. Unlike the gray smog of urban pollution, Gold Country hazards are hidden on forested trails and in “pristine lakes.” Contamination in dust can only be detected through sampling, and the mercury that makes fish toxic cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted. Harmful particles in smoke from wildfire can be smaller than a strand of hair. The invisibility of these exposure pathways has perpetuated a lack of comprehensive information about the severity of the associated health impacts, to the detriment of rural communities unwittingly exposed to legacy toxics.

The Sierra Fund’s Vision for Supporting Environmentally Healthy, Resilient Communities
The task of restoring land stewardship to the people who live here and re-building vibrant, resilient communities in the face of decades of economic and social upheaval has just begun. Traditional tribal leaders have begun to come forward and speak up about the extensive Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) they hold, seeking partnership and support as they attempt to rebuild their culture and repair the environmental damage that has changed the very substance of their communities.

Building communities that have the ability to protect and restore water quality, as well as to protect families from exposure to mercury in fish, heavy metals in dust, or poor air quality is strengthened by access to accurate information about what happened during the Gold Rush, and how these impacts affect public health today. Through on-the-ground pilot projects, data collection, and tireless inquiry TSF has changed the framework of understanding about environmental health in the Sierra.

Population(s) Served
Indigenous peoples
People of Latin American descent

The Sierra Fund’s Capacity Building Program (CBP) increases and organizes public and private investment in the interest of the natural resources and communities of the headwaters to the benefit of the entire state. From a platform of environmental justice, The Sierra Fund advocates directly for funding, builds the visibility of the region, and strengthens opportunities for collaboration across a diverse set of stakeholders from the Sierra to the sea.

“Our overarching goal is to make significant and lasting positive impacts on the Sierra Nevada by improving statewide understanding of the resources needed to address the pervasive impacts of the Gold Rush and the practical solutions that can be implemented to improve how these resources are allocated.” ~Izzy Martin, CEO

Background
The Sierra Fund plays a vital role in bringing new resources to the Sierra through advocacy and capacity building rooted in the tenets of environmental justice. The Sierra Nevada is key to the resilience of California, providing ecosystems services necessary to the vitality of the entire state. Yet, the vast region lacks representation in the Capital compared to other regions and it is blighted by the devastating impacts of the Gold Rush. The on-going socio-economic hardship faced by Sierra Nevada communities, more than half of which live below the state limits for poverty, makes economic growth and revitalization projects difficult for rural leaders to attract and carry out.

The Sierra Fund played a seminal role in the legislation that formed the Sierra Nevada Conservancy which distributes State funds dedicated to the region through competitive grant programs. The ability to apply for, administer and implement projects using these funds requires seasoned organizational capacity. and The Sierra Fund is dedicated to helping underestimated communities, First Nations-led tribal organizations and local governmental entities gain acumen in order to promote the equitable distribution of limited State resources.

The Sierra Fund has also been a long-standing fixture in the development of the Cosumnes, American Bear Yuba (CABY) Integrated Water Management Planning (IRWMP) Group. The CABY IRWMP acts as the regional vehicle through which the Department of Water Resources allocates funds for water infrastructure, water quality and ecosystem services projects. The Sierra Fund works tirelessly to increase the participation of underestimated, underrepresented, and underserved communities and Tribal entities so that they too can receive state funds for projects.

The Sierra Fund has built a reputation of excellence in the State Capital and continues to improve the development and implementation of legislation impacting the Sierra Nevada. It plays a leadership role in the annual Sierra Day in the Capital and continuously tracks developing legislation that affects the Sierra.

Our Vision for building capacity in the Sierra Nevada
The Sierra Nevada is served by a small but growing network of community and environmental groups working to protect and restore the region. Many have vision and passion but lack the administrative experience to build lasting and sustainable organizations. These groups need new resources to grow, including financial and technical capacity and a strategic approach to fundraising.

“We envision governmental agencies, community organizations, and business leaders in the Sierra Nevada with the resources they need to take action to protect and restore ecosystem and community resilience in the region.” Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin, CEO

The goal of The Sierra Fund’s Capacity Building program is to ensure that the Sierra Nevada has a resounding voice in the State Capital and is able to direct resources to increase community and ecosystem resiliency to the region. The Sierra needs strong, local organizations with the capacity to apply for, administer and implement lasting beneficial projects in the headwaters. The Sierra Fund is committed to supporting the incubation of these organizations. Our place-based approach builds the capacity of the region to recover from the impacts of the Gold Rush as well as to withstand a future of climate change.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people

Where we work

Awards

Last Best Place Award 2004

Sierra Nevada Alliance

Leadership Award 2016

James Irvine Foundation

Leadership Award 2016

California Wellness Foundation

Our results

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

How does this organization measure their results? It's a hard question but an important one.

Number of conference attendees

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

Indigenous peoples, Academics

Related Program

Ecosystem Resiliency Program (ERP)

Type of Metric

Output - describing our activities and reach

Direction of Success

Increasing

Context Notes

The Sierra Fund’s biennial Reclaiming the Sierra conference brings together hundreds of experts to showcase their research and listen to technical presentations. This metric is based on registration.

Number of donations made by board members

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Related Program

Sierra Capacity Building

Type of Metric

Input - describing resources we use

Direction of Success

Increasing

Context Notes

We recruit our Board based on their capacity to lend expertise to the many facets of our work. While we encourage board giving, this approach has cultivated a sense of fiscal capability and solvency.

Number of attendees present at rallies/events

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

Women and girls, Indigenous peoples, Economically disadvantaged people

Related Program

Environmentally Healthy Communities Program (EHCP)

Type of Metric

Output - describing our activities and reach

Direction of Success

Increasing

Context Notes

We strive to ensure that our work is responsive to the needs of various audiences. TSF outreach activities augment the science and policy activities around both of our major programs.

Median Donation

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Related Program

Sierra Capacity Building

Type of Metric

Input - describing resources we use

Direction of Success

Increasing

Context Notes

TSF is revitalizing our major donor strategy to increase the visibility of the need for residents and visitors to allocate more resources to increase resiliency in the Sierra.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

At the core of our Ecosystem Resiliency program is a keen understanding of and commitment to addressing the disturbance regimes in the Sierra Nevada including the flow regime, sediment regime, fire regime and climate regime. In restoring natural disturbance to headwater ecosystems the capacity of these systems to respond to change is restored and enhanced.
TSF’s vision for Environmentally Healthy Communities focuses on improving resiliency through environmental justice; making sure all people who live and work in the Sierra Nevada have the tools they need to protect themselves and their families from exposure to legacy mining toxics and to participate in decisions about their future access to clean water, air, soil and food.
Getting the core messages of our programs out to the rest of the state is a crucial goal of TSF. Public understanding of the vital importance of the Sierra is key to generating the resources and capacity needed for the communities to implement solutions.

Four strategic approaches represent the hallmark of our work:
1. We use rigorous science to identify and fill key data gaps needed to address identified problems and develop pilot projects that demonstrate effective solutions and invite replication. We do not pursue “random acts of conservation.”
2. We engage diverse leaders in work to articulate, advocate for, and win adoption of specific policy changes identified through our programs that are needed to advance our mission. This includes miners and environmentalists, scientists and land managers, cowboys and Indians and everyone else with a stake in the Sierra.
3. We improve visibility of the problems and solutions that we have developed to key audiences, and involve these audiences in collaborative action to implement the solutions.
4. We build regional and TSF organizational capacity to be ready to create and seize new opportunities.

TSF uses pilot projects to understand problems and to design solutions, allowing us to leverage targeted activities to the benefit of the region. This approach allows us to cultivate interest in our projects and encourages others to replicate and extend our successes. We crystallize the results of our by creating scientifically accurate materials that explain what we have done, why it is important, and what people can do to help. We take what we have learned directly to government and business leaders to inform their decisions and support effective implementation of resulting programs and investments. We identify and pursue opportunities to expand investment in the region, to ensure that the Sierra Nevada secures the resources needed to restore resiliency. The success of our work is predicated on our collaboration with a diverse group of stakeholders including technical experts, agency staff, decision-makers, and community members.

Our Ecosystem Resiliency Program is executed through research, a bi-annual conference, public outreach, and meetings with our Working Group of advisors. Highlights include:
• Advocated for the Governor’s 2017/2018 budget to include $8 million for mine remediation and $6 million to remove mercury-contaminated sediment from Combie Reservoir.
• CA Natural Resources Agency awarded TSF $800,000 to assess and acquire a mine-scarred parcel for the Nisenan tribe.
• Policy development creating the most significant improvements to California’s Surface Mining and Reclamation Act in a lifetime.

Our Environmentally Healthy Communities Program uses outreach and organizing to empower access to information and participation in decision-making. Highlights include:
• Surveyed nearly 500 anglers to learn about mercury exposure risk.
• Posted over 100 locations with fish advisories in two languages.
• Caught more than 200 fish providing data for new fish advisories.

See https://www.sierrafund.org/projects.

Financials

The Sierra Fund
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Operations

The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

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Connect with nonprofit leaders

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  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
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The Sierra Fund

Board of directors
as of 6/7/2021
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Adrienne Alvord

Union of Concerned Scientists

Alison Harvey

United Auburn Indian Community

Adrienne Alvord

Union of Concerned Scientists

Timothy Seward

Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker, LLP

Robert Meacher

Statewide Steering Committee, Brown Administration’s Resources Agency via the Department of Conservation

Gary Parsons

Yuba Watershed Institute

Rich Gordon

California State Assemblymember (Retired)

Martha Lennihan

Lennihan Law (Retired)

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? No

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 06/07/2021

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? GuideStar partnered on this section with CHANGE Philanthropy and Equity in the Center.

Leadership

The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
White/Caucasian/European
Gender identity
Female, Not transgender (cisgender)
Sexual orientation
Heterosexual or Straight
Disability status
Person without a disability

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity

 

Sexual orientation

Disability

We do not display disability information for organizations with fewer than 15 staff.