What One Silicon Valley Power Couple is Doing for Water Shortages and Wildfires

It’s a rare day that Californians flip on the television or radio and don’t hear something about water shortages and wildfires. Jim and Becky Morgan might be originally from the Midwest but they have really dived into some of the biggest challenges that the Silicon Valley region faces today.

Back in 2007, the couple set up the Northern Sierra Partnership though the Morgan Family Foundation. More recently, this Palo Alto-based environmental group teamed up with the Nature Conservatory and the America River Conservatory to buy a critical piece of land from a timber company for $10.1 million. The big idea behind this big purchase is that the 10,000+ acres of forests, meadows, and streams can help curb California’s water crisis. The land is just west of Lake Tahoe and overgrown forests are thought to be preventing the flow of over 20 miles of trout streams.

Prior to the sale, this land was used to turn trees into wooden produce crates. But now, the Morgans and their environmental cohorts are determined to restore the natural landscape and help the region through its fourth year of drought.  Researchers at UC Berkeley and UC Merced are backing up this big idea with hard science by saying that the trees need to be kept “in check” to ensure the forest is in a sustainable condition and deliver precious water from the Sierra Nevada snow and rainfall.

The Morgan Family Has been supporting the North Sierra Partnership since its creation, working with private landowners, public agencies, nonprofit groups, and local communities to conserve landscapes, restore habitats, expand recreation, and support rural communities. Foundation partners include Feather River Land Trust, Truckee Donner Land Trust, Sierra Business Council, Trust for Public Land, and The Nature Conservancy. According to the foundation, only 50% of the land in the northern Sierra above 3,000 feet elevation is in public ownership, compared to over 90% in the rest of the Sierra Nevada.

The couple shared with the California League of Conservation Voters:

We started skiing in Squaw Valley and Alpine when our children were 5 and 7, and we’ve been going there ever since,” Becky said. “Jim and I are both country kids; we both grew up on farms. Our rural backgrounds have given us an appreciation for our environment and the realization of our huge water problem.

However, the Morgan couple’s environmental support stretches further than just the Northern Sierra Partnership. Many Morgan environmental grants go towards exposing youth to environmental stewardship, providing technical research, protecting Bay Area lands and waterways. And much of the environmental support goes to organizations based in Palo Alto, San Francisco, and within the counties of Santa Clara and San Mateo. Recent local environmental grantees include the following:

  • Acterra
  • Change Scale
  • Feather River Land Trust
  • Hidden Villa
  • Living Classroom

Recent environmental funding has been made in the form of general operating support, specific programs, and capacity-building efforts. Unfortunately, unsolicited grant requests aren’t accepted by this funder, but you can get in touch with the environmental program officer, Lisa Downey, at Lisa@morganfamilyfoundation.org with general inquiries.