Land Conservation Program Frequently Asked Questions
Key Term Definition
Beneficial Public Values - Conservation values to be protected and enhanced on the PG&E watershed lands under PG&E’s Land Conservation Commitment. These values include the protection of the natural habitat of fish, wildlife, and plants; the preservation of open space; outdoor recreation by the general public; sustainable forestry; agricultural uses; and, historic values.
Conservation – The preservation of land predominantly in its natural, scenic, agricultural, historical, forested, or open space condition.
Conservation Easement – A perpetual legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified organization that restricts future activities on the land in order to retain the land predominantly in its natural, scenic, historical, agricultural, forested, or open-space condition.
Enhancement – An improvement in the quality of a Beneficial Public Value on the land. Examples of an enhancement could include enhanced management such as biological or cultural resource surveys and developing a resource management plan or improving the quality of wildlife habitat by removing invasive weeds; or physical enhancements such as constructing recreational trails.
Donee - An entity that receives fee title to, or holds a conservation easement on, the PG&E watershed lands. Under the PG&E Settlement Agreement, the watershed lands are to be donated in fee simple to public entities or qualified nonprofit conservation organizations, and/or made subject to conservation easements held by qualified entities.
Fee Title – Also called fee simple title. Ownership of land with the power to transfer by deed or by will and which includes all appurtenances to the land, subject to any rights retained by the donor or conveyed by means of an easement.
PG&E's Land Conservation Commitment – A key provision of the PG&E Settlement Agreement, the Land Conservation Commitment establishes the purpose and provides funding to ensure that the Watershed Lands are conserved for a broad range of Beneficial Public Values. The Land Conservation Commitment will be accomplished by placing permanent conservation easements or equivalent protections on the lands and by making certain lands available for fee title donation to qualified public agencies, nonprofit conservation organizations, or recognized California tribes.
Land Conservation Partner – An organization that works with the fee title owner and/or the conservation easement holder on donated lands to perform activities that preserve or enhance the Beneficial Public Values
Land Conservation Plan – Establishes the framework and management objectives for the permanent protection of more than 140,000 acres of PG&E’s watershed lands guided by the six Beneficial Public Values . Volumes I and II of the Land Conservation Plan were adopted by the Stewardship Council in November 2007. In Volume I of the plan, the overall framework is established, including legal requirements, the planning processes, methodologies, public involvement and regulatory processes. Volume II of the plan organizes the lands by watershed into 47 planning units to provide more detail regarding the beneficial public values, existing conditions, management objectives, measures, and conceptual plans for each planning unit. Volume III of the plan will consist of a series of Land Conservation and Conveyance Plans to be adopted by the Stewardship Council and recommended to PG&E.
Land Conservation and Conveyance Plan – Formerly referred to as the 'Volume III Disposition Packages', the LCCPs will describe the land conservation and conveyance measures proposed for each planning unit, cluster of parcels, or parcel, and together will comprise Volume III of the Land Conservation Plan. The LCCP will describe the donees and include the terms of the conservation easement and other relevant agreements . The LCCP may also address a number of items related to implementation, such as lot (parcel) splits, physical enhancements to be implemented, hazardous materials issues, an analysis of tax neutrality with respect to affected counties, long term monitoring, and an implementation schedule.
Land Conservation Program – A program within the Stewardship Council that is dedicated to facilitating the implementation of the Land Conservation Plan .
Pilot Project - Beginning in 2008, the Stewardship Council initiated work on the development of Land Conservation and Conveyance Plans for four of the 47 planning units referred to as 'pilots'. The key objective of the process was to identify organizations best suited to take on the long term stewardship of the lands, to develop plans that included objectives and measures to protect and enhance the Beneficial Public Values within each planning unit, and to apply and modify as appropriate the steps developed for the pilots in processing subsequent planning units. The four planning units selected as pilot projects were:
- Bucks Lake, Plumas County
- Doyle Springs, Tulare County
- Kennedy Meadows, Tuolumne County
- McArthur Swamp, Shasta County
These four planning units were chosen because they each exhibit a unique set of land use and conservation challenges, as well as being well distributed geographically across the watershed lands.
Preservation – Maintaining the natural state of the land, with considerations for fish and wildlife habitat and resources, open space values, and other environmental and social values.
Round 1 Planning Units – In the summer of 2009, following the initiation of four pilot projects, the Stewardship Council began work on the development of Land Conservation and Conveyance Plans for an additional 11 of the remaining 43 planning units.
Stewardship Council – A private, nonprofit foundation responsible for developing and implementing recommendations and a plan for the permanent protection of over 140,000 acres of watershed lands currently owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and located primarily in the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges.
Tax Neutrality – The requirement of PG&E’s Land Conservation Commitment that an appropriate entity (which may be PG&E, the Stewardship Council, a donee, or a third party) provide property tax revenue, another equivalent revenue source, or a lump sum payment so that land transfers, when evaluated over the totality of all transfers made in each affected county, do not result in a net loss of property tax revenues for that county.
What is PG&E’s Land Conservation Commitment?
Under a Settlement Agreement1 and associated Stipulation2 reached between PG&E and the California Public Utilities Commission in 2003, PG&E agreed to protect its more than 140,000 acres of watershed lands with conservation easements, or equivalent protections, and/or to make certain lands available for donation to public entities or qualified non-profit conservation organizations. PG&E is not expected to make fee simple donations of watershed lands that contain PG&E’s or a joint licensee’s hydroelectric project features. As part of the Settlement Agreement, PG&E funded an independent 501(c)(3) organization to oversee this process. Thus, the Stewardship Council was founded in 2004 to oversee the land conservation and conveyance process, as well as a separate Youth Investment Program. The overall objective of PG&E’s Land Conservation Commitment is to preserve and enhance a broad range of Beneficial Public Values on the watershed lands. The Stipulation and the Settlement Agreement direct the Stewardship Council to make reasonable best efforts to complete the land conservation and conveyance process within nine years, by April of 2013. A map showing the location of the watershed lands is here.
Who makes up the Stewardship Council’s board and what is the process for making decisions on the future preservation and enhancement of the watershed lands?
The Board of Directors of the Stewardship Council is made up of one board with one alternate from the following constituent organizations:
- Association of California Water Agencies
- California Department of Fish and Wildlife
- California Farm Bureau Federation
- California Forestry Association
- California Hydropower Reform Coalition
- California Public Utilities Commission
- California Resources Agency
- California Tribal Interests
- Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board
- Division of Ratepayer Advocates
- Pacific Gas and Electric Company
- Regional Council of Rural Counties
- State Water Resources Control Board
- The Trust for Public Land
- Three public appointees named by the California Public Utilities Commission
In addition, one seat on the board is shared by representatives appointed by the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, who participate in an advisory and non-voting capacity.
Stewardship Council Land Conservation Program staff is responsible for developing Land Conservation and Conveyance Plan recommendations in coordination with the Watershed Planning Committee, which is a subcommittee of the Stewardship Council board. The Watershed Planning Committee then forwards its recommendations to the full board for action at a public meeting. All Stewardship Council board decisions are made by consensus, as required by the Stipulation. The board meets several times a year in public session.
Once the Stewardship Council approves a Land Conservation and Conveyance Plan for certain lands, the plan is forwarded to PG&E for its approval. PG&E will obtain approval of the proposed land transactions from the California Public Utilities Commission under Section 851 of the California Public Utilities Code and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission when applicable.
What types of organizations could receive fee title to land through the Land Conservation and Conveyance (LCCP) process?
Pursuant to the PG&E Settlement Agreement and Stipulation, certain PG&E watershed lands may be transferred to qualified recipients (or “ donees ”). The following types of organizations are eligible to receive fee title to the available watershed lands:
- A nonprofit conservation organization;
- A federal, state or local governmental entity; or,
- A recognized California tribe3
The PG&E Settlement Agreement and Stipulation requires that the selected donee has the funding and other capacity to maintain the property for the preservation and/or enhancement of the Beneficial Public Values.
Section 4.2 of the Land Conservation Plan Volume 1 details the Stewardship Council's policy regarding the selection of qualified donees. On May 2nd, 2018 the Stewardship Council board approved the following additional guidance regarding the donee selection process:
"The watershed lands subject to the Land Conservation Commitment include lands of cultural importance to tribes. The Stewardship Council acknowledges this historical connection as a unique characteristic for tribes seeking ownership of lands available for donation and recognizes the value of such connection with extra consideration when assessing the qualifications of potential donees."
What is a conservation easement and what is the role of the conservation easement holder?
A conservation easement is a perpetual legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified organization that restricts future activities on the land in order to retain the land predominantly in its natural, scenic, historical, agricultural, forested, or open-space condition. The purpose of the conservation easement is to protect the Beneficial Public Values and to prevent any other uses that would significantly impair those values. Under California law the following entities are qualified to hold a conservation easement:
- A tax-exempt nonprofit organization qualified under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and qualified to do business in this state which has as its primary purpose the preservation, protection, or enhancement of land in its natural, scenic, historical, agricultural, forested, or open-space condition or use.
- The state or any city, county, city and county, district, or other state or local governmental entity, if otherwise authorized to acquire and hold title to real property.
- A federally recognized California Native American tribe or a non federally recognized California Native American tribe that is on the contact list maintained by the Native American Heritage Commission to protect a California Native American prehistoric, archaeological, cultural, spiritual, or ceremonial place, if the conservation easement is voluntarily conveyed.
The main responsibilities of a conservation easement holder are to:
- Prepare a report of the baseline conditions of the property at the time of conveyance, including existing uses, beneficial public values, access, maps and photographs of the property.
- Negotiate the conservation easement with the landowner, which will be either PG&E or a donee of fee title.
- Monitor at least annually the property to ensure that the landowner’s use of the property is in compliance with the terms of the conservation easement.
- Work with the fee title landowner to resolve any conflicts concerning use of the property and potential harm to the Beneficial Public Values.
- Enforce the terms of the conservation easement when necessary.
Under the Stipulation, the Stewardship Council board is required to make a finding that the intended donee of a conservation easement or fee simple title has the funding and other capacity to maintain that property interest so as to preserve and/or enhance the Beneficial Public Values.
How will this process and the implementation of the Land Conservation and Conveyance Plans be funded?
Under the Settlement Agreement and Stipulation, $70 million in PG&E ratepayer funding is being made available over a 10-year period to develop and implement the Land Conservation and Conveyance Plan . The Stewardship Council anticipates that a portion of the funds available for land conservation will be distributed to future land owners and conservation easement holders to facilitate the donation and future stewardship of the watershed lands, including certain transaction costs, contributions to fund conservation easement monitoring and stewardship costs, and the cost of certain enhancements . Because this allocation must be sufficient to fund land transactions across all 47 planning units, the Stewardship Council developed a Land Conservation Program Funding Policy that outlines its expectations of funding for the land conservation and conveyance process.
How can interested members of the public participate in this process?
The Stewardship Council has established a comprehensive public outreach program to both inform and solicit input from the public on the Stewardship Council’s work related to the conveyance and future management and stewardship of the Watershed lands. Public information meetings have been held at locations near the Watershed Lands, and noticed public board meetings are regularly held to review pending actions and to receive public comment. The Stewardship Council also maintains an informative website, and regularly issues email announcements. Interested members of the public are encouraged to visit the web site and register to receive email announcements. There will also be an opportunity for public review and comment prior to the Stewardship Council board’s future adoption of proposed Land Conservation and Conveyance Plans associated with the Watershed Lands. A full summary of the public outreach program can be found here.
How is public input considered by the Stewardship Council?
Public input is reviewed and considered by the Stewardship Council in the development of recommendations pertaining to donations of fee title or conservation easements, funding of enhancement measures, and proposed Land Conservation and Conveyance Plans (LCCPs), as well as other related matters.
Public comments received at public information meetings, or via email or written correspondence, are shared with the Watershed Planning Committee, a subcommittee of the full board, before it considers forwarding a recommendation to the board. Upon request by a member of the public, comments may be shared. Before comments are shared, personal contact information will be redacted. These comments are also shared with the board when it considers taking formal action on a recommendation.
Proposed LCCPs are posted for a 30-day public comment period. Public comments received during the comment period are shared with board members for their consideration prior to the Watershed Planning Committee forwarding a proposed LCCP to the board. Public comments received after the proposed LCCP has been forwarded to the board, including public comments received at board meetings held to consider adoption of proposed LCCPs, are also considered by the board. Upon request by a member of the public, comments may be shared. Before comments are shared, personal contact information will be redacted. Adoption of the proposed LCCP by the board at a public meeting is the final step in the Stewardship Council’s process for selecting prospective organizations for fee title donations and conservation easements. Transactions are finalized upon LCCP review and transaction approval by the California Public Utilities Commission.
Will all the lands available for donation be transferred?
Not necessarily. The Stewardship Council will only recommend the donation of watershed lands when it is demonstrated by an organization that such a donation will contribute to the permanent protection of the watershed lands and the preservation and/or enhancement of the Beneficial Public Values associated with the watershed lands. Recommendations by the Stewardship Council concerning the donation of watershed lands to eligible and qualified organizations will be based on the following key considerations:
- The organization is primarily interested in preserving and enhancing the Beneficial Public Values;
- The organization has a history of responsible financial management and demonstrates the financial ability to carry out activities necessary to preserve and enhance the Beneficial Public Values;
- The organization brings funding to achieve PG&E’s current baseline land management activities;
- Land conveyance will result in improved management of the land for the Beneficial Public Values;
- Ownership of the land by the recipient enhances the organization’s ability to secure additional funding to support management as well as the preservation and enhancement of the Beneficial Public Values;
- The organization has experience managing lands with similar resources and uses, as well as preserving and enhancing values similar to the Beneficial Public Values.
Stewardship Council recommendations will also be based on, and reflect the requirements of, the PG&E Settlement Agreement and Stipulation, the Land Conservation Plan (Volumes I and II), including the qualifications factors described in Volume I, the Stewardship Council’s Land Conservation Program Funding Policy, public comment, and other policies and pertinent factors.
Could this process impact existing public and private economic uses on the lands?
The PG&E watershed lands are presently subject to approximately 240 lease or license agreements with third parties allowing various uses of these lands, including private residential uses, commercial uses, grazing, and miscellaneous recreational uses. These uses often provide public benefits compatible with the Stewardship Council’s mandate to make recommendations to preserve and enhance the Beneficial Public Values on the watershed lands.
PG&E’s Land Conservation Commitment includes a requirement that conservation easements "honor existing agreements for economic uses." Consistent with this mandate, in May of 2006 the Stewardship Council board adopted a Policy Regarding Certain Agreements Affecting the Watershed Lands. The policy expresses the Stewardship Council’s desire and intent to recognize existing economic uses and agreements, balance a range of Beneficial Public Values, and preserve existing uses where they are, or can be made, compatible with the enhancement of the Beneficial Public Values.
Upon the expiration of an existing lease the landowner will determine whether to extend and to negotiate the lease terms with the applicable lessee. The general presumption in favor of allowing the continuation of economic uses may not apply in individual cases where it is determined that such uses would materially conflict with the preservation or enhancement of the Beneficial Public Values.
One of several considerations that will be used by the Stewardship Council to evaluate and recommend a prospective donee of fee title is the organization’s ability to work collaboratively and in partnership with public and private entities in the geographic region. Private entities would include parties that currently use the Watershed Lands pursuant to a lease, license or other agreement.
1 The Settlement Agreement between PG&E, PG&E Corporation, and the Commission ("Settlement Agreement"), includes paragraph 17 and Appendix E, which together establish the Land Conservation Commitment. This document is available on the Stewardship Council website.
2 The Stipulation Resolving Issues Regarding The Land Conservation Commitment ("Stipulation") was entered into as of September 25, 2003, by PG&E and an array of public entities and non-profit organizations, to interpret and state mutually agreeable terms for the implementation of the Land Conservation Commitment. This document is available on the Stewardship Council website.
3 A “recognized tribe” is defined as a federally recognized California Native American tribe or a non-federally recognized California Native American tribe that is on the contact list maintained by the Native American Heritage Commission to protect a California Native American prehistoric, archaeological, cultural, spiritual, or ceremonial place.