Monthly Archives: July 2013

Ecoregion Spotlight: Southern Cascade Ecoregion

By Ali Aghili

 The Southern Cascade Ecoregion is situated at the southernmost tip of the Cascade Range Southern Cascade ecoregionthat extends from the Canadian border into northern California. Geographically, this ecoregion is distinct because of its volcanic nature. Elevations range from 1,500 to 14,000 feet, precipitation ranges from 20 to 80 inches per year, and temperatures range from 40° to 95° F.

The Southern Cascade Ecoregion is predominantly rural with a mixture of public and private lands. Notable public lands include the Modoc National Forest in the north and Lassen National Forest and Lassen Volcanic National Park in the south. Mt. Shasta and Lassen Peak are the most iconic volcanic mountains. Major human settlements of the area include Shingletown, population 2283, along highway 44; the City of Weed, population 2967, along interstate I-5; and the City of Dorris, population 939 along highway 97. The Southern Cascade Ecoregion generally consists of mixed conifer forested area and non-forested shrubland and grasslands.

Mixed conifer forest

Photo credit: Brett Furnas, CDFW
Montane Mixed Conifer Forest

Three conservation targets have been selected for this ecoregion as part of the State Wildlife Action Plan update. They are the Western North American Temperate Grassland and Meadow, the Western Cordilleran montane-boreal riparian scrub and forest, and the California-Vancouverian Montane and Foothill (Mixed Conifer) Forest. The target ecosystems were selected based on the native species richness, endemism, and vulnerability.

The mixed conifer habitat types in the Southern Cascade ecoregion consists of white fir, Klamath mixed conifer, montane hardwood conifer, Jeffery pine and Ponderosa pine. Species common to this habitat type are: long-toed salamanders, mountain beaver, spotted owl, bald eagle, fisher, long-eared myotis, olive-sided flycatcher, Western tailed frog, and yellow warbler.

One of the major management challenges for this ecoregion is sustaining ecosystem functionality, including those provided from the fire regime (timing, frequency, intensity and extent), while ensuring safety and avoiding catastrophic events.  Strategies to address this issue includes coordination with partner stakeholders to search for mutual solutions by revisiting and updating the current fire management protocols so that the future best management practices of the forest would also embrace measures that benefit fish and wildlife. The goal of conservation strategies developed through the SWAP update process is to benefit the extent and integrity of these target communities by providing diverse niches for wildlife and plants in this ecoregion.

grassland and meadow

Photo credit: Ali Aghili, CDFW
Temperate grassland and meadows

Other important habitats of the Southern Cascade Ecoregion are Temperate grassland and meadows, and Riparian scrub and forest. Temperate grassland and meadows include Great and Basin wild rye, Blue wild rye, one-sided bluegrass – to name a few. Species common to this habitat type are: common garter snake, California vole, willow flycatcher, Cascade frog, and white-tailed kite. The main conservation objectives for this ecosystem are to improve the community structure and composition by controlling invasive plants, and to address the connectivity issues between patches of meadow habitat.

Riparian scrub and forest habitat exists along the rivers and creeks and provide important refuge for terrestrial species as well as shade to maintain water within the acceptable range for native fish, most notably anadromous salmonids. Species common to riparian habitats are: willow flycatcher, bald eagle, Northern river otter, California quail, Western pond turtle, Shasta crayfish, and many bat species. The main conservation objectives for the riparian ecosystem are to increase the extent of this habitat throughout the ecoregion, eradicate  invasive species to optimize native habitats, maintain habitat connectivity, and address the cumulative effect of riparian loss.

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Open Standards – Step 2

Based on the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation version 3, April 2013

As mentioned last month, CDFW is using the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation developed by the Conservation Measure Partnership as their planning approach to developing the SWAP 2015 Update. The Open Standards is a widely accepted conservation planning framework that brings together common concepts, approaches, and terminology in conservation project design, management, and monitoring in order to help practitioners improve the practice of conservation.

SWAP Cycle

SWAP Cycle

Last month looked at Step 1 of the 5-step process. This month we’ll look at Step 2: Planning Actions and planning Monitoring

Plan Your Actions and Monitoring
Once the basic project parameters have been described (see Step 1), the next step is to define the goals and strategies.  In addition to defining and developing the project’s goals, strategies, and objectives, this step also identifies the assumptions being made about how the strategies will indeed achieve the project goals.  Together, the project’s goals, strategies, objectives, and underlying assumptions comprise the project’s Action Plan.

Goals
Developing a clear idea of what the SWAP 2015 Update should accomplish is the essential first task of putting together the Action Plan.  Goals are linked to the project’s conservation targets and represent the desired status of the targets over the long-term–They are formal statements of the ultimate outcomes SWAP 2015 hopes to achieve through the implementation of conservation strategies.  A goal will be linked to a target and meet the criteria of being Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound (SMART). An example of a goal might be:  By 2025, increase distribution of Eagle Lake rainbow trout to upper 5 miles of the main stem of Pine Creek in the North Lahontan HUC 1808 conservation unit. (Target: Eagle Lake Fish Assemblage. See the article Ecoregion Spotlight.)

Strategies
Once it is determined what accomplishments are desired to improve the target condition (articulated in the goals), the next step is to consider what is needed to actually achieve these goals by defining strategies or sets of activities.  Good strategic planning involves determining where, how, and when to intervene in the system evolving around the targets. Intervention may involve enhancing vital ecological factors to assure the viability of the target, or conversely, reducing the stresses or causes of the stresses which are negatively impacting the target. Regardless, the intention is to effectively improve the target conditions as an overall outcome when the strategies are implemented en masse. An example of a strategy to accomplish the goal above might be: Manage the brook trout population, assess groundwater quality and availability, increase domestic water use efficiency, and establish sustainable livestock grazing practices.

Assumptions
After developing strategies for a given target, it is essential to come up with a clear statement about how each strategy is expected to help achieve the desired conservation results. This process requires an explicit acknowledgement of the assumptions made about the strategies and articulates how the strategy would contribute to achieving the stated conservation goals presuming these assumptions are correct.  A “results chain” (illustrated below) is one tool that depicts these assumptions, in a causal (“if- then”) progression of expected short and long-term intermediate results that lead to long-term conservation results benefiting the target in the end.

Factors-with-Results graphicGeneric Conceptual Model “Factors” with Associated Results Chain

Objectives
Results chains are also a very useful tool for setting short-term objectives that lead to long term outcomes.  Objectives are formal statements of the outcomes (or intermediate results) and desired changes that are necessary to attain the goals. Objectives specify the desired changes in the factors (direct and indirect threats and opportunities) needed to achieve in the short and medium-term goals.  A good objective also meets the criteria of being SMART as described above under the Goals section.

The goals and objectives specified in the results chain represents what needs to be accomplished and include the assumptions about how the deliverables of an individual strategy will cumulatively help reach those expected accomplishments.  As such, these results chain components become the critical evaluation measures against which the progress of the project will be gauged.

Develop a Formal Monitoring Plan
This step also includes developing a Monitoring Plan that is used to quantitatively evaluate the assumptions made through the project development, and to track progress in achieving the stated goals and objectives. The Monitoring Plan will also be helpful in identifying the resources needed for implementation, a timeline for data collection and analysis, and a reflection of potential risks that should be considered. The evaluation of the acquired data through the monitoring process would be imperative to the future decision making that is necessary to adaptively manage the project during the implementation stage.

More information on developing a monitoring plan will be provided in next month’s newsletter.

Develop an Operational Plan
Conservation projects are ultimately implemented by people and institutions.  Even the best action and monitoring plans are of little utility if not put into operation.  Therefore, an Operational Plan is critical for a successful implementation.

More information on this component of the SWAP 2015 Update will be provided in future newsletters.

Eagle Lake rainbow trout

By Paul Divine and Dave Lenz

Angler holding up two big fish from Eagle Lake

Photo credit: Paul Divine
Angler Ian Brinlee, displaying a successful catch at Eagle Lake.

Anglers from near and far have long enjoyed fishing for the large rainbow trout that is endemic to Eagle Lake, northwest of Susanville in Lassen County. Eagle Lake is the second largest natural lake that is entirely located in California. The lake is found within the larger Lahontan basin of western Nevada. Because of its location in a closed basin, the lake concentrates dissolved materials and has high alkalinity and pH conditions (pH 8.4-9.6). These conditions are too harsh for other rainbow trout species and may have caused the elimination of all introduced non-native fish species in the lake. Besides the Eagle Lake rainbow trout, the lake supports four native Lahontan fish species: Tahoe sucker, Eagle Lake tui chub, speckled dace and Lahontan redsides.  One non-native species, brook trout, does exist in the Pine Creek headwaters – over 20 miles upstream from Eagle Lake.

Eagle Lake MapSince the late 1950’s Eagle Lake rainbow trout have needed to be sustained by a hatchery program. Deteriorated habitat conditions prevent self-sustaining reproduction in Pine Creek, Eagle Lake’s only tributary capable of supporting spawning and rearing. The goal for restoration at Eagle Lake is to improve habitat conditions so that these large trout can successfully migrate to suitable spawning areas in Pine Creek, spawn in natural conditions, and have young trout return to the lake.

It is likely that natural conditions (precipitation, stream flow, and fish migration passage) in this arid location frequently prevented successful migration, spawning and rearing from occurring due to insufficient water volume in the water course. Eagle Lake rainbow trout may have adapted to these conditions with a long life span strategy, living as many as eleven years  – which helps improve the odds of surviving through periods of poor conditions to times when conditions favor successful spawning and rearing of young.  One of the chief obstacles for Eagle Lake rainbow to successfully reproduce in the Pine Creek headwaters is the presence of brook trout. These non-native trout were introduced many decades ago and compete for limited habitat and may prey on the young Eagle Lake rainbow trout.

As part of the SWAP update, conservation strategies are being developed to improve stream conditions to support spawning and rearing in Pine Creek as well as migration of both adult and young Eagle Lake rainbow trout to and from Eagle Lake and Pine Creek.  These strategies are focused on improving fish habitat through: repairing degraded stream channel and reducing erosion due to past and present land management practices, better use of the limited water supply to improve stream flow, removal of existing migration barriers to improve fish access to available habitats, and removal of non-native brook trout to improve spawning and rearing success.  The overarching goal of these strategies is to improve the connectivity between the lake and streams and create habitat conditions so that Eagle Lake rainbow trout regains a self-sustaining population within the watershed, while other native species occurring in this watershed also receive conservation benefits by the implementation of these strategies.

Climate Change and the California State Wildlife Action Plan

By Whitney Albright

 The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recognizes that climate change is a major challenge to the conservation of California’s natural resources, and climatic changes in the state are already resulting in observed changes in natural systems. For example, migrating birds and butterflies are arriving at different times and some forest species are gradually shifting to higher elevations. Projected changes in climate, including extreme events such fire, drought, flood, extreme temperature, and storm events, could have significant impacts on habitat, species, and human communities.

As stewards of the state’s diverse fish, wildlife, and plant resources, and the habitats upon which they depend, the CDFW is taking an active role in planning for, and responding to, the challenges posed by a changing climate. The revision to the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) provides an opportunity to help minimize the negative impacts of climate change to species and habitats by incorporating the best available climate science and adaptation strategies into this conservation blueprint for the state. California was one of the first states to include climate change in its original wildlife action plan in 2005, and CDFW is again making a significant effort to integrate climate considerations throughout the revision process.

As part of this effort, CDFW worked with partners to develop a methodology to assess the threat posed by climate change to selected conservation targets in the state. This methodology explicitly integrates climate change into the threat assessment and ratings described in the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation that is being used to update the California SWAP. This integrated threat assessment provides a basis for identifying climate adaptation strategies that minimize the impacts of climate change on wildlife and habitat. The process of developing local strategies is occurring at ecoregional and watershed levels by teams of biologists. Once completed, their work will be rolled up into a state-wide strategy. A separate climate stakeholder group consisting of CDFW staff and partners was convened to help gather the necessary climate data for this exercise and to support the ecoregional teams as they work through this process.

In addition to identifying climate impacts and adaptation strategies by ecoregion, CDFW is also working towards conducting a state-wide terrestrial, habitat-based climate vulnerability assessment and a separate marine-based climate vulnerability assessment. Currently under development, these vulnerability assessments will be presented in the revised SWAP, and will also be used to inform other work being done by CDFW to address climate change.

Integrating climate change into the 2015 SWAP revision is a necessary and important step towards implementing climate-smart conservation strategies. These considerations will help the Department to responsibly manage the state’s natural resources and safeguard fish, wildlife, and habitats for future generations to enjoy.

For more information on climate change in the California SWAP, please visit www.dfg.ca.gov/Climate_and_Energy/Climate_Change/Activities/SWAP.aspx