A new parks bond option is being pursued by the California Legislature in 2017 - will it address the long-overdue needs of Sierra Nevada parks and forests? Sierra CAMP explore this question in What a New Parks Bond Could Mean for the Sierra.

What is a parks bond?

There have been multiple iterations of a parks bond in California over the years. The last legislatively crafted parks bond was Proposition 40, which was approved by California voters in 2002, and allocated more than $1.2 billion for local assistance grants and state park maintenance and acquisition.

In 2016, the California Legislature created a renewed parks bond, the California Parks, Water, Climate, and Coastal Protection and Outdoor Access for All Act, which designates more than $3 billion in bonds for state and local parks and recreational facilities. During the August 2016 session the bill ran out of time and failed to reach the Governor’s desk, so two new versions were introduced at the start of the 2017-2018 legislative session — one in the Assembly (AB 18 - E. Garcia) and one in the Senate (SB 5 - DeLeon). If a parks bond bill passes both the Senate and Assembly and is signed by the Governor within the legislative and ballot-printing deadlines, it will be presented to voters on the June 2018 ballot.

There is tremendous need to enhance and expand park infrastructure to meet outdoor and recreational demand in both urban and rural communities. Opponents cite concerns that the bill, given its bond structure, could add to the state’s debt. However, the state has a long history of successfully funding parks through bonds as far back as the very first Parks Bond Act of 1928. Moreover, a 2012 state report to the National Park Service cites nearly $5 billion in unmet park infrastructure and repair needs--and yet it has been fourteen years since the California Legislature last passed a parks bond.

Despite the clear need for park-related maintenance and improvements, California communities are severely lacking in these critical infrastructural investments. 

Why a parks bond matters for the Sierra

The Sierra provides exceptional natural resource benefits to the state as a whole, including 60% of the state’s developed water supply and access to recreation and outdoor space to Californians through local, regional, state and national parks, as well as national forests. National parks alone in California draw more than 38 million visitors each year and drive an enormous outdoor economy within the state. In fact, the outdoor economy is one of California’s top economic sectors, supporting over 700,000 jobs and representing an $85 billion industry. The Sierra also hosts a diversity of habitats for hundreds of species including threatened and endangered species, and plays a critical role in sequestering and storing massive amounts of carbon in its forests.

Funding from a parks bond would maintain and broaden these benefits for all Californians reliant on these resources, but especially for the Sierra communities whose economies are
based on tourism and outdoor recreation. The Sierra is home to a population of nearly 1 million, of which approximately 50% of census areas may be considered disadvantaged according to Median Household Income (MHI). These communities are not only immediately affected by the health of their parks and trails, but also by the health of surrounding forests and watersheds. Many of the benefits provided by these lands are at risk due to overgrown forests, drought, and extreme flooding. Overgrown forests are suffering abnormally large, damaging wildfires, which can destroy recreational facilities and heavily impact tourism-reliant communities. Moreover, millions of trees in the Sierra have died from drought, insects, disease, and flood-related erosion. An overabundance of dead trees can discourage recreation and tourism in the area, increase public safety concerns due to toppling risks, result in decreased carbon storage potential, and increase overall emissions from extreme wildfire and decomposition. As such, residents of and visitors to the Sierra have much to gain from the assistance provided by a parks bond.

Parks bond funding allocated to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy could be used to implement the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program, a coordinated multi-benefit initiative designed to restore Sierra forests and watersheds to a state of health and resilience by investing in science-based ecological restoration techniques. Moreover, providing funding to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy assists in the state’s efforts to mitigate and prepare for climate change, reduces impacts to water and air quality from mega-fires, creates jobs in disadvantaged communities, and ensures ongoing access to recreational opportunities for millions of Californians. 

Check out our What a New Parks Bond Could Mean for the Sierra fact sheet to learn more about a new parks bond and what it means for the Sierra.