Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Shaping land use change and ecosystem restoration in a water-stressed agricultural landscape to achieve multiple benefits

Benjamin P. Bryant, T R. Kelsey, Adrian L. Vogl, Stacey A. Wolny, Duncan J. MacEwan, Paul C. Selmants, Tanushree Biswas, H S. Butterfield

Irrigated agriculture has grown rapidly over the last 50 years, helping food production keep pace with population growth, but also leading to significant habitat and biodiversity loss globally. Now, in some regions, land degradation and overtaxed water resources mean historical production levels may need to be reduced. In this study, the authors demonstrate how spatial planning for habitat restoration in stressed agricultural landscapes can recover biodiversity and create co-benefits during transitions to sustainability. They applied their approach to California’s San Joaquin Valley where groundwater regulations are driving significant land use change. In order to understand what a plausible future landscapes will look like with reductions in groundwater use, they link agricultural-economic and land use change models to predict future cropping patterns, including temporary fallowing and permanent retirement. The authors found that a large fraction of the reduced cultivation may be met through temporary fallowing, but still estimate that over 200,000 acres of agricultural land will need to be permanently retired. They then applied systematic conservation planning to identify optimized restoration solutions that secure at least 25,000 acres of high quality habitat for each of five endangered species, accounting for spatially varying opportunity costs specific to each future landscape. The authors identified consolidated areas that are common to all land use scenarios where restoration could be targeted to enhance habitat by utilizing land likely to be retired anyway, and by shifting some retirement from regions with low habitat value to regions with high habitat value. They also show that there are significant potential co-benefits of retirement derived from avoided nitrogen loadings and soil carbon sequestration.

See Q&A about this paper on Stanford's Water in the West webpage.

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2023 | Terrestrial | Economics | Publications & Reports

Building California’s Forest Resilience Workforce

Sarah Heard, Bradley Franklin

Wildfires in California, and across the western U.S., are increasing in frequency and severity, threatening both ecosystems and communities. Restoration—a combination of ecological thinning and prescribed fire—is one of the best tools to build forest resilience and prevent catastrophic wildfires, by reducing the buildup of…


2023 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Oren Pollak Memorial Research Fund - 2023 RFP

Brynn Pewtherer

The Oren Pollak Memorial Research Fund was established in 2000 in memory of Dr. Oren Pollak, a leading grassland ecologist and restoration pioneer, as well as an ardent champion and mentor for grassland ecology students. As The Nature Conservancy’s lead ecologist in California in the…


2023 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Marine | Science | Publications & Reports

Conservation Science Catalyst Fund - 2022 Annual Report

Scott Morrison, Brynn Pewtherer

The Nature Conservancy deploys science to help overcome major challenges facing people and nature. In today’s fast-paced world, turning threats to nature into opportunities for conservation requires agility. The Conservation Science Catalyst Fund enables our science team to mobilize quickly — and produce the information…


2023 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Floristic patterns and conservation values of Mojave and Sonoran desert springs in California

Naomi S. Fraga, Brian S. Cohen, Andy Zdon, Maura Palacios Mejia, Sophie S. Parker

This paper presents novel botanical inventories of 48 desert springs as part of the Mojave Springs Research Project. The authors assess plant species composition and richness within and between springs and evaluate how botanical diversity relates to physical and hydrological parameters. The results of…


2023 | Terrestrial | Marine | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Minimizing conservation impacts of net zero energy systems in the western United States

Grace C. Wu, Ryan A. Jones, Emily Leslie, James H. Williams, Andrew Pascale, Erica Brand, Sophie Parker, Brian Cohen, Joseph Fargione, Julia Souder, Maya Batres, Mary G. Gleason, Michael H. Schindel, Charlotte K. Stanley

This paper presents the results of the Power of Place-West project. The authors combined energy modeling with ecosystem and wildlife habitat data to determine the costs and impacts associated with deploying clean energy infrastructure across 11 states in the American West. The results of…


2022 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Foundation plant species provide resilience and microclimatic heterogeneity in drylands

Chris J. Lortie, Alex Fillazola, Mike Westphal, H. Scott Butterfield

Drylands globally, and those plant and animal species in these systems, face increasing challenges from extreme drought. In California, the most recent megadrought allowed us to document for native San Joaquin Desert plants and animals the importance of foundational shrub species for mediating fine-scale near-surface…


2022 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Expanding the Role of Nature-based Solutions in FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance Programs: Lessons and Recommendations

The Nature Conservancy, radbridge, Earth Economics

FEMA increasingly recognizes and emphasizes the role of nature-based solutions (NBS) for building community resilience to hazards like flood, wildfire, and drought, and the agency has made remarkable progress on policies and resources to support NBS in a relatively short period. However, anecdotally it remains…


2022 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Environmental & Historic Preservation Primer for Nature-Based Hazard Mitigation

The Nature Conservancy, FEMA, Nonlinear Ventures, radbridge, Earth Economics

To address the increasing risk of catastrophic flooding, wildfire and other climate-related threats, communities are pursuing nature-based solutions (NBS) and seeking FEMA hazard mitigation funds to support this work. Of all the required activities, the Environmental & Historic Preservation (EHP) review is often cited as…


2022 | Marine | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Using unoccupied aerial vehicles to map and monitor changes in emergent kelp canopy after an ecological regime shift

Vienna R. Saccomanno, Tom Bell, Camille Pawlak, Charlotte K. Stanley, Katherine C. Cavanaugh, Rietta Hohman, Kirk R. Klausmeyer, Kyle Cavanaugh, Abby Nickels, Waz Hewerdine, Corey Garza, Gary Fleener, Mary Gleason

Kelp forests are complex underwater habitats that provide valuable services for both people and nature. Despite their importance, increasingly severe stressors have resulted in declines in kelp forests in many regions including the North Coast of California. Given the significant and sustained loss of kelp…


2022 | Marine | Planning | Economics | Science | Publications & Reports

The Business of Restoration: Examining the oyster reef restoration industry in the U.S. with recommendations for how conservation organizations can increase efficiencies and decrease costs to scale restoration efforts

Elliot Hall, Bryan DeAngelis

Oyster reefs are one of the most imperiled habitats on earth. However, current rates of restoration are too slow. We must radically increase the pace, scale, and impact of restoration to recover the abundance, resilience and benefits of these invaluable coastal ecosystems. Fortunately, incredible transformations…


2022 | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Soil microbial community composition and tolerance to contaminants in an urban brownfield site

Maura Palacios Mejia, Connie Rojas, Emily Curd, Mark Renshaw, Kiumars Edalati, Beverly Shih, Nitin Vincent, Meixi Lin, Peggy Nguyen, Robert Wayne, Kelsey Jessup, Sophie Parker

This paper presents results from a study conducted at TNC’s multi-benefit stormwater management and habitat enhancement project site adjacent to the Los Angeles River. Due to a history of industrial use, soils at the project site are contaminated with heavy metals, petroleum hydrocarbons, and…


2022 | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Predictive ecological land classification from multi-decadal satellite imagery

Daniel Sousa, Frank W. Davis, Kelly Easterday, Mark Reynolds, Laura Riege, H. Scott Butterfield, Moses Katkowski

This paper details a first of its kind approach to land classification, using random forests and multivariate regression trees and historical Landsat satellite imagery to map and then assess changes in oak canopies at the Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve. Using this “topoclimatic-edaphic” approach to…


2022 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Technology | Economics | Science | Publications & Reports

Developing an adaptive management approach to cowbird control on the Santa Clara River, California

Sophie S. Parker, Linnea S. Hall, Mary J. Whitfield, Laura Riege, Kathryn R. Selm, René Corado

This paper presents results from a field-based study that can be used to benefit songbirds in riverside habitats like those found along the Santa Clara River in Ventura County, California. Songbirds such as the Least Bell’s Vireo suffer population declines in part because Brown-headed…


2022 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Marine | Economics | Science | Publications & Reports

Unlocking FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Funding for Coral Reef Restoration: A Feasibility Study in Maui, Hawaii

UC Santa Cruz (Austen E. Stovall, Michael W. Beck), The Nature Conservancy (Alyssa Mann, Tamaki Bieri), Radbridge/formerly Earth Economics (Johnny Mojica, Rowan Schmidt)

Climate change poses severe threats to coastal communities and the ecosystems on which they depend. Warming ocean temperatures increase the magnitude and frequency of storm and coral bleaching events, allowing less time for recovery amidst these threats. Coral reefs complex and stable structure protects against…


2022 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Stress Testing the BCA Toolkit with Nature-based Solutions: Observations and Recommendations for FEMA

The Nature Conservancy, Earth Economics

FEMA requires that hazard mitigation projects must be cost-effective to the federal government, as demonstrated in a Benefit-Cost Analysis (BCA), which compares the present value of a project’s future benefits and costs. A BCA is required for the vast majority of FEMA-funded hazard mitigation projects,…


2022 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Potential Lithium Extraction in the United States: Environmental, Economic, and Policy Implications

Sophie S. Parker, Bradley Franklin, Brian S. Cohen, Melissa M. Rohde, Michael Clifford, Andrew Williams

Climate change will cause severe financial, social, and environmental upheaval if a massive reduction in carbon emissions is not achieved by 2030. To address this challenge, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries will play a key role in transitioning the energy and transportation sectors away from fossil fuel…


2022 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Marine | Planning | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Prioritizing actions: spatial action maps for conservation

Heather Tallis, Joe Fargione, Edward Game, Rob McDonald, Leandro Baumgarten, Nirmal Bhagabati, Rane Cortez, Bronson Griscom, Jonathan Higgins, Christina M. Kennedy, Joe Kiesecker, Timm Kroeger, Trina Leberer, Jennifer McGowan, Lisa Mandle, Yuta J. Masuda, Scott Morrison, Sally Palmer, Rebecca Shirer, Priya Shyamsundar, Nicholas H.Wolff, and Hugh P. Possingham

Spatial analysis is a powerful tool in conservation planning. Yet it is often under-deployed as a means of elucidating which conservation actions may deliver the highest return on investment. This paper presents a framework for “spatial action mapping” and discusses how it can improve conservation…