Next Steps

2014 is beginning much the way 2013 ended – hectic. The good news is that much progress has been made in completing Phase I tasks including strategy development for the individual regional conservation units, and public scoping. This progress will allow us to complete the draft and final stages in the SWAP 2015 Update on schedule.

Phase I also includes the habitat/climate vulnerability assessment.  The Request for Proposal (RFP) for the vulnerability assessment was posted in January. We received several proposals and are in the process of evaluating them. . The next step will be to select a contractor and develop a scope of work and a contract. The habitat/climate vulnerability assessment will complement the taxa specific vulnerability assessments that were completed, or are in the process of being completed, as part of the updates to the species of special concern reports. Species of Special Concern along with all State and Federally listed and candidate species and species found to be vulnerable to climate change, will comprise the “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” for the SWAP 2015 Update.

We are still tying up a few other loose ends from Phase I. There are some teams that chose to develop additional strategies for their conservation units. We are also continuing the QA/QC of the completed Miradi files in preparation for uploading them to Miradi Share. Miradi Share is a new cloud-based software system that enables conservation practitioners, managers, and funders to design, manage, monitor, and learn from collections of related conservation “projects” that make up a conservation “program.” Specifically, Miradi Share helps program teams:

  • Create individual Miradi projects that use standardized terms and factors across the program
  • Manage and track the status of all projects within the program
  • Aggregate and analyze information across some or all of these projects
  • Export project and program data to websites and other organizational IT systems
  • Share project and program results within the team or across the globe

At the public scoping meetings, we promised to post the individual meeting agendas, posters, presentations, and fact sheets to the SWAP website. We’re currently working on this and hope to have everything posted soon. All written comments received will also be posted to the website.

We are also anticipating one or two additional scoping meetings that will be presented via WebEx for tribal members – likely in early April. We are in the process of working out the details and will send out an announcement when the dates and times are confirmed.

The RFP for Phase II has just been publically posted. Phase II of the update process includes developing reports for each of the conservation strategies we developed in Phase I; evaluation of our performance in meeting the objectives articulated in our State Wildlife Grant (SWG) project proposals since 2005, and lessons learned over that time period; development of a draft and final SWAP 2015 document; and conducting public review for the draft and final documents. We will be moving forward with the contracting process over the next few months and hope to begin work on Phase II tasks by mid-spring.

If staff and funding are available, we are planning to begin Phase III of the SWAP 2015 Update later this year. Phase III will involve developing eight companion plans. Companion plans are plans that will focus on actions that can be taken by other agencies, organizations and private landowners to complement our implementation of the SWAP 2015 Update strategies.

In many of the strategies we developed for our regional conservation units, we identified opportunities for collaboration and partnerships that would benefit fish and wildlife. There are also potential collateral benefits that would increase coordination and effectiveness, improve the sharing of resources and data, and better align planning, policies, and regulations. Since all human activity has the potential to affect fish and wildlife, coordinating with every sector of society seems prudent. The topics we will focus on for the companion plans are Agriculture; Commercial & Recreational Uses; Energy Development; Forests & Rangelands; Land Use Planning; Transportation Planning; Tribal Lands; and Water Management.

As you can see, there is still much work to be done but the progress we have made thus far is impressive.

SWAP Scoping Meetings Recap

Attendees gather for the SWAP meetingThirteen public scoping were held throughout the state between October and December 2013 and were attended by over 500 people. Public input was sought to ensure the SWAP 2015 Update adequately identifies impacts to habitats – and that the draft conservation strategies appropriately address those impacts.

Meetings were conducted in Sacramento, Long Beach, San Diego, Palm Desert, Fresno, San Luis Obispo, Bishop, San Leandro, Santa Rosa, Lake Tahoe, Redding, and Eureka, with a second meeting in Sacramento.  All but San Luis Obispo and the second Sacramento meetings are being held in the evening to accommodate those who work during the day.

SWAP meetingEach meeting highlighted different regional habitats. Presentations discussing the various habitats included a PowerPoint presentation, a Fact Sheet handout and a detailed wall poster. The meeting materials including the agendas are in the process of being posted to the SWAP website – and should be available by mid-March.

In addition to the great questions asked at the Scoping Meetings, public comments were solicited on the draft conservation strategies. Many written comments have been received so far, with more comments continuing to come-in via postal and electronic mail. Comments will also be posted to the SWAP website by mid-March.

It’s not too late to submit a comment. CDFW wants your input: Is anything missing? Are there any gaps? Did CDFW properly identify the key conservation factors of the habitat selected as the target for the respective conservation targets? What do you like about the approach being taken, or don’t like? Because of the technical nature of the topic, comments are requested in writing, so nothing is mischaracterized. Please submit comments via email to: SWAP@wildlife.ca.gov. You can also mail comments to:

Armand Gonzales
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
1416 Ninth Street, Suite 1341-B
Sacramento, CA  95814

Regional Conservation Strategies

After several months of intensive work, CDFW teams have developed draft conservation strategies for 39 Conservation Units (USDA Ecoregions, USGS HUC 4 Watersheds, and MLPA Marine Study Regions). A state map of the Conservations Units can be found here. A summary of the Conservation Strategies, Key Ecological Attributes, Stresses, and Threats for each conservation unit can be found here.

Each Conservation Unit represents and encompasses the full suite of biodiversity and ecosystem functions & conditions found within or nearby their geographical area. Examples of Conservation Units include: Southern California Coast Ecoregion 261B, Southern California Coast Hydrologic Unit (HUC) 1807, and the South Coast Marine Conservation Unit.

Within each Conservation Unit, one or more Targets were selected to develop conservation strategies for. Targets for conservation units consist of vegetative communities or habitats, native fish assemblages, and marine habitats. Examples of targets include: California Annual and Perennial Grassland, South Coast Native fish Assemblage, and Bays, Estuaries and Lagoons.

The purpose of the conservation strategies is to identify actions that will improve the conditions of the ecosystems under focus. Those identified actions when properly implemented are intended to accumulatively benefit the Species of Greatest Conservation Need found in those conservation units and beyond.

To begin the analysis, Key Ecological Attributes (KEAs) were identified for each target. KEAs are the most critical ecological components of a target, often related to the life history, habitat, ecosystem processes, or community interactions that the target depends upon, without which its persistence would be impaired. Often, if those KEAs are degraded or missing in a conservation unit where the target is found, it could impact the integrity and viability of the ecosystem by interrupting the dynamic interaction among vegetation, water, soil, atmosphere, biota, and so on. Examples of KEAs are area and extent of community, biotic interactions and hydrologic regimes.

Teams then identified the environmental stresses affecting each conservation target. Stresses are related to “naturally” occurring phenomena such as drought, fire, blizzard, etc., and are best described as the degraded condition of the KEAs. The teams next identified “threats” that influence a habitat. Threats are primarily human related activities that potentially affect the conservation target. Some common examples include invasive species, dams and incompatible dam managements, incompatible transportation corridor designs, and urban development.

Understanding how KEAs, stresses, and threats interact among themselves to impact a target is the basis for developing conservation actions to improve the condition of the target. A current example facing California now is with native fish. Native fish are dependent on specific water conditions unique to the place where they evolved. Native fish can be impacted by reduced water flow (water flow = KEA, reduced water flow = stress) due to snowpack decline (stress) resulting from climate change (stress in this case), and further impacted by dam operations that release less water and alter the quantity and timing of the flow (underlines are KEAs, incompatible dam operation is the threat). Together this interaction leads to loss or degradation of habitat (stress) with less than ideal conditions, such as higher water temperatures (stress), or impaired movement within a stream (stress). Conservation strategies could be developed by considering feasible actions that reduce the impacts such as altering the timing of flow releases mimicking the seasonal flow, or retrofitting dams to allow more cold water releases.

SPECIES SPOTLIGHT: Colombian black-tailed deer

By Joshua Bush

Mule deer

Photo credit: Charles Krebs/Corbis

Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are found throughout California; CDFW  recognizes 6 subspecies that occur in the state.  The different subspecies are mainly distinguished through coat, color marking, body size, and other physical characteristics of the animal.  The Northern California Interior Coast Range Ecoregion (NCICR) is home to one of the subspecies known as the Colombian black-tailed deer. Although not a special status species, this deer can be utilized as a barometer to give insight on ecosystem health. Deer populations can often infer the relative conditions of other largely unstudied species, especially in forested areas like the Blue Oak woodlands found in the NCICR.

Colombian black-tailed deer are found throughout the NCICR where their life expectancy is between 8-11 years. Their body weight is typically between 130-180 lbs., for males and 70-120 lbs., for females.  Deer are crepuscular (mainly active at dusk and dawn), and prefer to lie in brushy cover during the middle of the day. Mature bucks live isolated from doe and fawn groups and will seek out mates during the “rut”. Mating occurs in mid-fall and fawns are born in the spring.  Healthy females will often produce two fawns.  Less than optimal health reduces births to one or possibly no young. Newborn fawns and their mothers will spend the majority of their time in riparian areas where hiding cover, water and food are available.

mule deer

Photo credit: National Park Service, 2009

Deer are browsing animals, as opposed to grazers (like cows), relying on a diet of mainly shrubs – with grasses, forbs or wildflowers, and other plant material mixed in. Deer are specialists in their preferred habitat which consists of young, new or disturbed growth as opposed to old growth. As fawns become older and less susceptible to predators, both mother and fawn will venture from the safety of the riparian areas and utilize the brush and trees of the landscape.

This region has a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and wet cold winters.  Because of this, food availability is seasonal. Spring is when food is most bountiful as rain brings new growth. Deer utilize new growth of shrub species including poison oak, buck brush, and redberry as well as new forbs.  They continue to utilize these sources throughout summer but due to lack of rain, the plants become less palatable and the nutritional value decreases. Blue-oak acorns can be a significant food source in the winter and fall months.  High in nutritional value, they can often help sustain deer until the rains come and the plants begin to grow once again.

mule deer

Photo credit: Charles Krebs/Corbis

There are many threats to deer in the NCICR.  They face predation from mountain lion, golden eagles, black bear, and wild pigs.  They are also a game animal – and bucks are harvested in the late summer and fall.  However, habitat degradation is the single most severe impact that affects not only the deer species but all other native species found in the NCICR, including the Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN). Incompatible grazing,  noxious weeds infestation, trees and brush removal, habitat fragmentation, reduced native biodiversity, degraded fire regime, increased soil compaction, and decreased water retention are all negatively impacting the NCICR and deer in the area.

The State Wildlife Action Plan is developing regional strategies to address those factors negatively affecting SGCN.  These strategies are aimed at helping increase the functionality and health of the ecoregion.  One strategy includes conserving habitats through Conservation Easements (CEs). By purchasing CEs, willing landowners and conservation groups will be able to reduce property parcelization, helping create large contiguous corridors of protected land for wildlife movement. Another strategy promotes outreach and education to the public and interested parties about the benefits of implementing grazing Best Management Practices (BMPs).  This strategy proposes to create a program that will systematically inform the public about the incentive programs regarding the implementation of grazing BMPs, habitat restoration, and invasive species control.  By working on an ecosystem level within the ecoregion, we hope that the NCICR’s SGCN receive the greatest bang for the “buck.”

As mentioned above, deer is considered an indicator of habitat health especially in forested ecosystems because they are sensitivity to changes in habitat conditions. The species is actually an efficient indicator because they are rather common and easy to count as opposed to other species. Population estimates based on long-term studies together with harvest data provide evidence that deer populations have declined, suggesting poor habitat conditions are affecting survivorship. As the strategies are implemented, it will be important to monitor selected indicators such as deer populations. Using deer as proxy, analysis of the gathered data will give insight into the habitat’s overall health – and ensure that the blue-oak forest ecosystem conditions are improving.