PG&E’s watershed largesse

The environmental protections triggered by utility’s bankruptcy

Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s bankruptcy in 2001 left millions of Californians with higher energy bills but it has been a boon to the state’s environment.

Under the terms of its bankruptcy settlement, the utility agreed to permanently protect more than 140,000 acres of some of the state’s best wildlife habitat and fishing streams, much of it in prized watersheds threatened by development.

The agreement prohibits development on these lands and conserves them as habitat and open space available to the public. The parcels, mostly in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains, range from the Mt. Shasta area in the north to the Carrizo Plain near Bakersfield, and are valued at around $300 million. Roughly 85,000 acres are in Shasta and Plumas counties.

In 2004, the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council was created to oversee the conservation of these watershed lands. Since then, it has recommended the transfer of 36,000 acres from PG&E to new owners, who are required to comply with protections.

All told, the company agreed to donate or grant conservation easements on 70,000 acres. PG&E will retain the remaining 70,000 acres, said Allene Zanger, executive director.

Along with recommending owners, the Stewardship Council recommends third parties to hold the easement and monitor compliance with the terms of the agreement. The council expects to complete the process of recommending parcel transfers this year.