Rodd Kelsey

Lead Scientist
Terrestrial
[email protected]

In The Nature Conservancy’s California Chapter, Rodd leads a multi-disciplinary team of scientists to guide efforts focused on conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services in working forests, rangelands, and cultivated landscapes.  Specifically, Rodd helps lead the Conservancy’s science related to accelerating the restoration of forests in the Sierra Nevada, protecting and ensuring sustainable management of grasslands used for livestock production, and incentivizing farmland management that can increase their biodiversity value and decrease impacts to our natural lands and human health. Rodd also continues to work actively in guiding bird-friendly management of farmlands, with a special focus on Sandhill Cranes in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Rodd has over 20 years’ experience in natural resources conservation and wildlife research. Prior to joining the Conservancy, Rodd served as Director of Conservation for Audubon California. Previous work included field research on several bird species throughout the United State and Central America, serving as natural resources manager for the U.S. Navy, and as a private consultant working on habitat conservation planning. Rodd received a B.A. in environmental conservation at the University of Colorado, an M.S. in biology at California State University, Long Beach, and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis.

What Rodd is working on now:

I’m currently working on two projects. One is completing a regional prioritization of watersheds in the Sierra Nevada for targeting investments in forest restoration to reduce the potential for severe wildfires and enhance the biodiversity and resilience of these watersheds. My other project is completing a quantitative assessment of the ecosystem service co-benefits that may be generated by strategically retiring and restoring agricultural lands in the San Joaquin Valley to help achieve groundwater sustainability and recover habitats for severely imperiled wildlife.


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2018 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Wetland Bird Conservation in California Rice Fields

Chris Elphick, T. Rodd Kelsey, Catherine Hickey, Khara Strum, Paul Buttner, Monica Iglecia

Wetland birds, especially Sandhill Cranes, are heavily dependent on irrigated farmlands in the Central Valley of California after widespread conversion of natural habitats. TNC and its partners have had great success working with farmers to design and implement compatible management practices that make sure farms,…


2018 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Waterbird response to variable-timing of drawdown in rice fields after winter-flooding

Kristen Sesser, Monica Iglecia, Matthew Reiter, Khara Strum, Catherine Hickey, Rodd Kelsey, Daniel Skalos

Over 50% of waterbird habitat in the Central Valley of California is provided by flooded agricultural land. Each year non-breeding waterbird habitat decreases in the late winter as flooded agricultural fields are drained after waterfowl hunting season in late-January to prepare for the next crop.…


2018 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Economics | Science | Publications & Reports

Groundwater sustainability in the San Joaquin Valley: Multiple benefits if agricultural lands are retired and restored strategically

Rodd Kelsey, Abby Hart, H. Scott Butterfield, Dan Vink

Restoring habitat in retired farmland could reduce water demand and provide ecosystem services for farmers and local communities. In some areas of California, as a result of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), it is likely that large amounts of agricultural land will need to…


2018 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Better late than never: a synthesis of strategic land retirement and restoration in California

Chris Lortie, Alex Filazzola, Rodd Kelsey, Abigail Hart, Scott Butterfield

Over the past 100 years, California's Central Valley has undergone a massive transformation from desert to a mosaic of farmland and urban development. This transformation has also meant many desert species have lost habitat. Now, new groundwater regulations are calling for the retirement of more…



2017 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Identification of potentially suitable habitat for strategic land retirement and restoration in the San Joaquin Desert

H. Scott Butterfield, Rodd Kelsey, Abigail Hart, Tanushree Biswas, Mark Kramer, Dick Cameron, Laura Crane, Erica Brand

California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) established a framework for sustainable, local groundwater management. SGMA requires groundwater-dependent regions to halt overdraft and bring basins into balanced levels of pumping and recharge. As a result, agricultural land retirement is on the rise in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s largest agricultural region and home to…


2017 | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Regional Prioritization for Forest Restoration across California's Sierra Nevada

Rodd Kelsey, Edward Smith, Tanushree Biswas, Chris McColl, Kristen Wilson, Dick Cameron

This report provides a systematic regional-scale assessment of biodiversity, fire regime change, and fire risk to infrastructure of forested watersheds across the Sierra Nevada and prioritizes watersheds for forest restoration where the greatest risk reduction to biodiversity and human infrastructure can be achieved. For priority…


2017 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

A bustle in the hedgerow: Woody field margins boost on farm avian diversity and abundance in an intensive agricultural landscape

Sacha K. Heath, Candan U. Soykan, Karen L. Velas, Rodd Kelsey, Sara M. Kross

This paper discusses the potential for on-farm habitats along field margins as a conservation strategy within intensively cultivated landscapes. Specifically, the study examined the effects of woody field margin vegetation on winter and breeding season avian communities within diverse farm fields of California's Central Valley,…


2017 | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Quantifying Trade-Offs Among Ecosystem Services, Biodiversity, and Agricultural Returns in an Agriculturally Dominated Landscape Under Future Land‑Management Scenarios

Emma C. Underwood, Rachel A. Hutchinson, Joshua H. Viers, T. Rodd Kelsey, Trisha Distler, Jaymee Marty

This paper discusses and provides modeled estimates of the biodiversity and ecosystem service outcomes of three different future land use scenarios, compared to current land uses, in a cultivated landscape of the Central Valley in California. Specifically, it quantifies the impacts to greenhouse gas emissions,…



2017 | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

A General Framework for Setting Quantitative Population Objectives for Wildlife Conservation

Kristen E. Dybala, Neil Clipperton, Thomas Gardali, Gregory H. Golet, Rodd Kelsey, Stefan Lorenzato, Ronald Melcer, Jr., Nathaniel Seavy, Joseph G. Silveira, Gregory S. Yarris

Quantitative population objectives are necessary to achieve conservation goals of secure or robust wildlife populations, however, existing methods for setting them often require extensive species population viability data, which are often unavailable. This paper presents an alternative method that uses key milestones a population would be expected to…


2017 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Population and habitat objectives for avian conservation in California’s Central Valley riparian ecosystems

Kristen E. Dybala, Neil Clipperton, Thomas Gardali, Gregory H. Golet, Rodd Kelsey, Stefan Lorenzato, Ron Melcer, Jr., Nathaniel E. Seavy, Joseph G. Silveira

The Conservancy and partners are working to establish riparian ecosystems that provide sufficient habitat to support genetically robust, self-sustaining, and resilient bird populations in California's Central Valley. In this study, researchers selected 12 riparian landbird focal species as indicators of riparian ecosystem health and are…


2017 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Informing watershed planning and policy in the Truckee River basin through stakeholder engagement, scenario development, and impact evaluation

Kristen Wilson, Erik Lowe, Stacey Wolny, Barry Nickel , Rodd Kelsey

This study demonstrates how science-based planning with stakeholder input can improve and direct conservation investments across existing state and jurisdictional boundaries. The authors set out to help direct the type, amount, and location of conservaiton investments in the Truckee River watershed in the Sierra Nevada…



2016 | Terrestrial | Publications & Reports

Field-scale habitat complexity enhances avian conservation and avian-mediated pest-control services in an intensive agricultural crop

Sara M. Kross, T. Rodd Kelsey, Chris J. McColl, Jason M. Townsend

Globally, loss of biodiversity and impacts to natural services and human health have been driven to a significant degree by loss of natural habitats due to agricultural land conversion and management practices. As a result, there is growing need and demand for designing or restoring…