California is the leading agricultural state in the country and it’s agriculture generates more than $45 billion annually. About 10 million acres of the state is intensively cultivated land, using roughly 80 percent of the developed water supply. Only a small fraction of these lands are managed deliberately in ways that minimize impacts to nature and maximize the services that nature can provide back to the farm. This has come at a substantial price to nature and the future resilience of agriculture. 

Maintaining a mix of natural areas along farm fields and along waterways can provide vital habitat and movement corridors for wildlife, as well as important services like pollination and pest control from native insects, erosion control, and improved water quality. Sustainable management of soils and crops themselves can further reduce the ecological footprint of the land use, and indeed provide habitat for some native species. 

Conservancy scientists are investigating these co-benefits, to inform how policy and market incentives could promote food production practices that sustain nature as well as people.

Science in Action

Terrestrial | Science

Wildlife Friendly Agriculture

Can we modify agricultural landscapes to enhance habitat for wildlife, in ways that also benefit the farm?

Freshwater | Terrestrial | Technology | Economics | Science

BirdReturns

How can we get water in the right place at the right time to help migrating birds?

2019 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

The dark side of facilitation: native shrubs facilitate exotic annuals more strongly than native annuals

Jacob E. Lucero, Taylor Noble, Stephanie Haas, Michael Westphal, H. Scott Butterfield, Christopher J. Lortie

Previous work at the Carrizo Plain by this team in 2018 showed that native shrubs facilitated endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizard populations, and should be considered part of plans for habitat restoration in the San Joaquin Valley. This paper shows that shrubs have a dark…


2019 | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Making habitat connectivity a reality

Annika T. H. Keeley, Galli Basson, D. Richard Cameron, Nicole E. Heller, Patrick R. Huber, Carrie A. Schloss, James H. Thorne, Adina M. Merenlender

Connectivity conservation must move more rapidly from planning to implementation. We provide an evidence‐based solution composed of key elements for successful on‐the‐ground connectivity implementation. We identified the social processes necessary to advance habitat connectivity for biodiversity conservation and resilient landscapes under climate change.


2019 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Clarifying Effects of Environmental Protections on Freshwater Flows to—and Water Exports from—the San Francisco Bay Estuary

Gregory J. Reis, Jeanette K. Howard, Jonathan A. Rosenfield

For years the narrative of the San Francisco Bay Delta has been driven by the contention that water use by agriculture was being limited by environmental regulation. Analyzing long-term trends regarding factors governing water exports in the Delta, researchers from The Bay Institute, The Nature…


2019 | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

The benefits of crops and field management practices to wintering waterbirds in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta of California

W. David Shuford, Matthew E. Reiter, Kristin A. Sesser, Catherine M. Hickey, Gregory H. Golet

Agricultural intensification has been a major factor in the loss of global biodiversity. Even so, agricultural landscapes provide important habitat for many bird species, particularly in the Central Valley of California, where >90% of wetlands have been lost. This study demonstrates that wetlands, and certain…


2019 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Habitat restoration opportunities, climatic niche contraction, and conservation biogeography in California's San Joaquin Desert

Joseph A. E. Stewart, H. Scott Butterfield, Jonathan Q. Richmond, David J. Germano, Michael F. Westphal, Erin N. Tennant, Barry Sinervo

Due to limited water resources, there is a global trend toward the retirement of farmland, especially in the San Joaquin Valley in California where the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act could necessitate the retirement of more than 500,000 acres. This paper helps identify where, across the…


2019 | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

New concepts, models, and assessments of climate-wise connectivity

Annika T H Keeley, David D Ackerly, D Richard Cameron, Nicole E Heller, Patrick R Huber, Carrie A Schloss, James H Thorne, Adina M Merenlender

As climate change impacts wildlife and plants, species may need to access new habitats. Various approaches exist to plan to climate-driven habitat connectivity needs. We summarize the literature of connectivity planning that accounts for climate change, and suggest guidance for preferred approaches given various objectives.


2019 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Organic amendment additions to rangelands: A meta‐analysis of multiple ecosystem outcomes

Kelly Gravuer, Sasha Gennet, Heather L. Throop

Interest in land application of organic amendments—such as biosolids, composts, and manures—is growing among landowners, managers, and climate policy leaders due to their potential to increase soil carbon and help mitigate climate change, as well as to support soil health and regenerative agriculture. While organic…


2018 | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

A test of desert shrub facilitation via radiotelemetric monitoring of a diurnal lizard

Michael F. Westphal, Taylor Noble, Harry Scott Butterfield, Christopher J. Lortie

Shrubs can play a key role in the structure of desert communities and can function as foundation species. Understanding desert shrub ecology is therefore an important task in desert conservation. In this study, the authors used radiotelemetry (technology used to track animals from a distance)…


2018 | Terrestrial | Economics | Science | Publications & Reports

Toward a Carbon Neutral California: Economic and Climate Benefits of Land Use Interventions

David C. Marvin, Dick Cameron, Erik Nelson, Andrew Plantinga, Justin Breck, Gokce Sencan, Michelle Passero

Ecosystems can increase carbon storage under alternative management techniques and land use patterns. But the magnitude, timing, and spatial heterogeneity is uncertain. Assessing the potential and cost of land management and conservation activities to reduce emissions or increase carbon sequestration is needed to help the…


2018 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

The emergence of cannabis agricultural frontiers as environmental threats

Van Butsic, Jennifer K. Carah, Matthias Baumann, Connor Stephens, Jacob C. Brenner

While cannabis cultivation in California is known to sometimes have serious collateral impacts on the environment, those impacts and their extent are not well understood or described. In this paper, the authors quantify growth in the footprint of cannabis cultivation between 2012 and 2016 in…


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 | 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 | Marine | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Conserving California's Coastal Habitats: A Legacy and a Future with Sea Level Rise

Walter N. Heady, Brian S. Cohen, Mary G. Gleason, Joshua N. Morris, Sarah G. Newkirk, Kirk R. Klausmeyer, Hilary R. Walecka, Elizabeth Gagneron

Sea level rise presents a new challenge to coastal conservation. The authors quantified and mapped the vulnerability of habitats, imperiled species, and conservation lands to sea level rise throughout the entire California coast, where high biodiversity, high endemism, and 26.5 million people coincide. Combining habitat…


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…


2018 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Impact of extreme drought and incentive programs on flooded agriculture and wetlands in California’s Central Valley

Matthew E. Reiter​, Nathan K. Elliott, Dennis Jongsomjit, Gregory H. Golet, Mark D. Reynolds

In the Central Valley of California, with 90% of the historic wetlands gone, waterbirds depend upon managed wetlands and seasonally flooded agriculture to meet their habitat needs. The 2013-2015 drought in the Central Valley was more severe than drought years during 2000-2011 and reduced waterbird…


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

Improving multi-objective ecological flow management with flexible priorities and turn-taking: a case study from the Sacramento River and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

Alexander C.A.D., F. Poulsen, D.C.E. Robinson, B.O. Ma , R.A. Luster

Management of the Sacramento River and Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta is one of California’s greatest challenges, requiring trade-offs between valued components that serve a multiplicity of conflicting purposes. This paper demonstrates an improved method for multiple-objective allocation of water based on a “turn-taking” optimization model. The…


2018 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Using ricelands to provide temporary shorebird habitat during migration

Gregory H. Golet, Candace Low, Simon Avery, Katie Andrews, Christopher J. McColl, Rheyna Laney, Mark D. Reynolds

Migratory birds face great challenges due to the climate change, conversion of historical stopover sites, and other factors. To help address these challenges, the Conservancy launched a dynamic conservation incentive program to create temporary wetland habitats in harvested and fallow rice fields for shorebirds…


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 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Rethinking the Grid: Optimizing California’s Transmission System For Renewable Energy

Energy+Environmental Economics for The Nature Conservancy, Arne Olson, Doug Allen, Vivian Li, Emily Leslie

California leads the nation in the transition to a clean energy economy. However, current transmission planning processes limit development of new renewable resources. This report (slide deck), produced for the Conservancy by Energy+Environmental Economics, analyzes an alternative transmission planning framework (Energy-Only) using the San Joaquin Valley as…