Controversies loom for the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council?s 18 directors charged with overseeing conservation and recreational uses on land near Pacific Gas & Electric?s dams. Well in advance of any actual land-use planning decisions, user groups and advocates have begun lining up to defend, propose, and oppose uses for the 140,000 acres of forests, canyons, lakeshores, and plains, mostly in the Sierra and Cascade mountains. The pending tugs of war over the 981 parcels come after a quiet first year in which the ideologically diverse council hired staff and consultants. It also appointed a new member to represent Indian tribes, set investment policies for its 10-year, $100 million income stream, and began to sketch out a process for long-term planning?under its consensus decision-making model. ?This is California, and you have competing uses for all the lands out there,? said Duane Marti, a board member representing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which manages land intermingled with PG&E hydropower properties. ?Already we?re getting interest from counties, Indian groups, conservation groups, hunting and fishing groups,? he added. For instance, at a meeting in Burney last fall, the council heard from groups ranging from the Sierra Club to local gun clubs to Shasta County officials who wanted land for an airport expansion. According to Marti, this was just a quiet prelude to the loud disputes to come in this unprecedented planning process. ?There will be tough decisions, especially when we consider transferring land with a conservation easement. What will the conservation easements involve? If we?re giving it to a county, and they want intensive recreation, the fish and game people will say that will be injurious to wildlife,? he said. But for Marti, the competition over land use was par for the course for federal agencies. ?We?re used to it, but for some of the other board members, it?s a new thing.? Although it began as an uncontroversial outgrowth of PG&E?s highly controversial bankruptcy reorganization, the watershed council is now working to overcome distrust in some quarters. PG&E ?went into bankruptcy with a very hardball attitude and came out of it with a very hardball victory,? said council board member Hannah-Beth Jackson, a former Assemblymember from Santa Barbara. She said the stewardship council ?was the bone they threw?the salve that took away some of the bite of the deal.? Jackson also says she and other board members were told by PG&E-watchers that the utility intended to twist the council?s conservation mandate in order to sell or develop some of its hydropower lands. Jackson says that over the council?s first year, her concerns about PG&E?s possible hidden agenda have decreased. The company appears ?to be operating in good faith,? she said. Other board members give PG&E higher praise. ?PG&E has been investing a lot of staff and resources and working very helpfully with the stewardship council,? said Dave Sutton, a board member representing the Trust for Public Land. PG&E?s hydropower lands, acquired over more than 100 years, include vast tracts of land that have long been open to public use. The properties interface with U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands. PG&E maintains many trails, picnic and river-access areas, campgrounds, and other facilities. Most of the land is not directly associated with hydropower generation. Under deregulation, these parcels were ?perceived as nonperforming assets,? Sutton said. Since the mid-1990s, private and public agencies have been brainstorming on preservation strategies. PG&E engaged in the dialogue, according to Sutton, but the lands were clearly at risk as the deregulated company sought to improve its balance sheet. When PG&E declared bankruptcy, the disposition of the properties went into the hands of U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge Dennis Montali, who ordered the parties into the negotiations that ultimately created the council. The bankruptcy settlement and a more detailed stipulation agreement required the council to inventory all the relevant lands and create a long-term conservation planning process. Under the agreements, existing uses could be maintained or changed, and new or improved recreational facilities built?but development is prohibited. Subject properties can remain under PG&E?s ownership or be transferred to public agencies with conservation easements that outline usage restrictions. Of the 140,000 acres, about 95,000 acres are governed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The council will have to seek FERC approval for any changes to existing usage restrictions on those properties. The council will have more leeway with the remaining 45,000 acres, although the CPUC must review and approve its plans. The stipulation agreement also established the council?s unique board structure, with 14 seats, one for each of the main parties to the negotiations (later expanded to 15 to include a tribal representative). They include the California Farm Bureau Federation, the California Forestry Association, the California Hydropower Reform Coalition, the Native American Heritage Commission, PG&E, the Trust for Public Land, and nine state and federal agencies. Three ?public? members appointed by the CPUC include Jackson, San Jose pastor J. Alfred Smith, and Luis Arteaga of the Latino Issues Forum. In addition to its charge to develop long-term conservation and land-use plans for the hydropower lands, the council is also mandated to implement youth programs. The council has contracted with San Francisco?s Tides Foundation to come up with recommendations for structuring that program. It is slated to receive $30 million of the $100 million due from PG&E over 10 years. ?There is not complete clarity on all the components of that program,? said Jayne Battey, the council?s new executive director. ?Tides is interviewing all the board members and getting thoughts from other stakeholders to identify where the gaps are in youth wilderness education programs.? The funding may also be used to support parks in urban areas of the Central Valley and Sierra foothills. While the council anticipates contentious debates over the future of lands used and valued by a wide range of groups, their commitment to operating by consensus will make compromise mandatory. ?It?s not going to be an easy process when decisions are tough, and there are some concerns about it, but real optimism? as well, Battey said.