Project Update

By Armand Gonzales, SWAP Project Lead

It’s been an intense time since we began developing conservation strategies for individual conservation units (ecoregion, watershed, and marine study region) statewide. We have accomplished a lot and I am proud of the effort everyone involved has made. The process required many hours of preparation and even more hours on WebEx calls over a five-month period. I am sure this took its toll on participants’ personal lives, work schedules and “other duties.”

Nevertheless, we made significant progress in defining tangible and implementable strategies built upon the knowledge and experience of local experts. These strategies, when implemented, will address many high priority targets (vegetation communities, habitats and fish assemblages) which will benefit fish and wildlife resources over the next decade and beyond. The intentions of our effort were design and implement strategies that would lead to enhance ecological conditions for selected targets, or to reduce the impacts from various threats and stresses affecting them.  At the same time these conservation actions needed to be ethically and technically feasible, and financially and politically practicable.

The results are unprecedented and a tribute to the professionalism and dedication of Department staff as well as many partner agencies and organizations that contributed their staff’s time to the effort. We had over one hundred and thirty people working on developing strategies with a quarter of those being from other agencies and organizations including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U. S. Forest Service, U. S. National Parks Service, Bureau of Land Management; San Francisco, Central Valley, and Sonoran Joint Ventures; Cal Fire, Department of Water Resources, Delta Conservancy, Point Blue Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, California Invasive Plant Council, California Native Plant Society, as well as the University of California and California State University.

We are still in the process of conducting quality control review on the individual strategies in preparation for the public scoping meetings scheduled for October and November. This QA/QC process will be iterative and continued after the scoping meetings are over, but with additional help from consultants, planned to come on early next year. In addition to fixing errors and improving consistencies, the consultants will also be adding scientific references, looking at and improving the indicators and monitoring sections, and developing strategies for some of the habitats we missed.

We have been able to prepare some summary statistics which may be of some interests:

Sixty-three (63) strategies have been developed overall for 41 of 43 identified statewide conservation units.

The top five Key Ecological Attributes (KEAs, essential ecological conservation factors) of the targets identified were:

  1. area and extent of community,
  2. community structure or composition,
  3. successional dynamics,
  4. connectivity among communities & ecosystems, and
  5. surface water flow regime.

The top five stresses, or the degraded ecological condition of the target, were:

  1. changes in annual average temperatures,
  2. changes in annual average precipitation,
  3. changes in natural fire regime,
  4. changes in water levels and hydroperiod, and
  5. habitat fragmentation.

The top five threats or drivers  that cause or aggravate stresses were:

  1. incompatible housing and urban areas,
  2. incompatible annual & perennial non-timber crops,
  3. incompatible livestock farming & ranching,
  4. incompatible fire & fire suppression, and
  5. invasive plants/animals.

Other notable threats identified by the teams were the incompatible aspect of dams and water management, roads and railroads, renewable energy, utilities, and recreational activities.

The top strategies developed to deal with these threats were:

  1. land acquisition/easements/leases,
  2. partner engagement,
  3. outreach & education,
  4. data collection, analysis and research, and
  5. invasive species management.

Other notable strategies developed included habitat restoration, incentivized conservation, reintroductions of diminishing native species, dam and barrier management, and environmental review.

As deserving as every target is, limited time and budgets have prevented us from developing strategies for all the possible targets. We did, however, thoughtfully select the highest priority habitats or species assemblages for our conservation units to develop strategies. Once implemented, these strategies will likely benefit all the species associated with the habitats, which is a big step towards managing species on an ecosystem level. There is also the opportunity to continue developing strategies over time; as we complete one strategy, we can begin another.

With each strategy we develop we increase our capacity to leverage additional funding and resources which together, may be the best way to achieve meaningful progress towards the conservation of fish and wildlife in California.  Moreover, the work we have done will help drive CDFW funding and staffing prioritization, and influence our conservation partners’ priorities as well.  There is still a lot to be done but we can be proud of our work, making a difference helping conserve our natural heritage for future generations.