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?

2017 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

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, produced for the Conservancy by Energy+Environmental Economics, analyzes an alternative transmission planning framework (Energy-Only) using the San Joaquin Valley as a case…


2017 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Ecosystem management and land conservation can substantially contribute to California’s climate mitigation goals

D. Richard Cameron, David C. Marvin, Jonathan M. Remucal, Michelle C. Passero

Combatting climate change will require using all available tools, especially those that contribute to other societal and economic goals, such as natural resource protection and energy security. Conserving and managing natural and agricultural lands to retain and absorb greenhouse gasses (GHGs) are tools that have…


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 | Maps & Webmaps

The Bay Area Greenprint

Carrie Schloss, Elizabeth O'Donoghue, Christa Cassidy, Tom Robinson, Serena Unger, Adam Garcia, Dan Rademacher

The Bay Area Greenprint tool provides land use and infrastructure agencies, consultants, and advocates easily accessible, interpretable, and scientifically robust information on habitat and ecosystem service values in the Bay Area. Currently, natural and agricultural lands are not considered early enough in planning processes leading…


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…


2016 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Inconsistent food safety pressures complicate environmental conservation for California produce growers

Patrick Baur, Laura Driscoll, Sasha Gennet, Daniel Karp

Since a deadly outbreak of pathogenic E. coli in California spinach in 2006, produce growers have been pressured to implement on-farm practices, such as native vegetation removal, in the name of food safety. These practices are damaging to the environment and may conflict with existing laws.…


2016 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Pop-up wetland habitats benefit migrating birds and farmers

Christopher J. McColl , Katie Andrews, Mark Reynolds, Gregory H. Golet

In response to the decline of wetland habitats for migrating and wintering water birds in California, the Conservancy developed a program called BirdReturns that creates “pop-up” wetland habitat where and when birds need them most by enlisting farmers to flood their fields at specific times. This…


2016 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Agricultural practices for food safety threaten pest control services for fresh produce

Daniel S. Karp, Rebekah Moses, Sasha Gennet, Matthew S. Jones, Shimat Joseph, Leithen K. M'Gonigle, Lauren C. Ponisio, William E. Snyder, Claire Kremen

Food safety concerns have led to pressure on farmers to simplify their farms and landscapes, rather than diversify them. This study demonstrates that two practices – elimination of manure-based composts and removal of non-crop vegetation (i.e. habitat) – are likely having negative impacts on arthropod biodiversity,…


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…


2016 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Future land-use related water demand in California

Tamara S Wilson, Benjamin M Sleeter, D Richard Cameron

This publication discusses how land use changes in Mediterranean California will drive changes in water use between urban uses and annual vs. perennial crops. The authors used a state-and-transition simulation model to project business-as-usual trends into the future for developed (municipal and industrial) and agricultural…


2016 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Historic and Recent Winter Sandhill Crane Distribution in California

Gary L. Ivey, Caroline P. Herziger, David A. Hardt, Gregory H. Golet

Understanding the geographic distribution and long-term dynamics of Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) foraging areas and night roost sites is fundamental to their conservation and management. The authors conducted surveys and compiled existing information on the distribution and abundance of these birds at these habitats across…


2015 | Terrestrial | Publications & Reports

The Unintended Ecological and Social Impacts of Food Safety Regulations in California's Central Coast Region

Daniel S. Karp, Patrick Baur, Edward R. Atwill, Kathryn De Master, Sasha Gennet, Alastair Iles, Joanna L. Nelson, Amber R. Sciligo, Claire Kremen

In 2006, an E. coli outbreak linked to spinach grown in California’s Central Coast region catalyzed reforms in vegetable production. Without evidence, wildlife was targeted as a disease vector and, under industry and governmnet pressure, growers fenced fields, applied wildlife traps and poison, and removed…


2015 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | 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, Khara M. Strum, Michelle M. Gilbert , Catherine M. Hickey, Greg Golet

Although agricultural intensification is one of the largest contributors to the loss of global biodiversity, agricultural landscapes can provide valuable habitat for birds. Recognizing this, wildlife professionals are working to promote “wildlife-friendly” farming. In this paper, authors assessed the value to wintering waterbirds of different…


2015 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Technology | Publications & Reports

Abundance models improve spatial and temporal prioritization of conservation resources

Johnston, A., D. Fink, M. D. Reynolds, W. M. Hochachka, B. L. Sullivan, N. E. Bruns, E. Hallstein, M. S. Merrifield, S. Matsumoto, S. Kelling

Global declines in migratory species in response to accelerating habitat destruction and climate change challenge the scope and scale of conservation efforts. The ability to pinpoint where and when conservation interventions will have the greatest positive population impact is especially important for conservation of migratory…


2015 | Terrestrial | Publications & Reports

Comanaging fresh produce for nature conservation and food safety

Daniel S. Karp, Sasha Gennet , Christopher Kilonzo, Melissa Partyka, Nicolas Chaumont, Edward R. Atwill, Claire Kremen

In 2006, a high profile outbreak of E. coli in spinach was traced to California’s Central Coast. After that outbreak, produce growers were pressured to minimize potential presence of wild animals by removing surrounding natural vegetation that provides habitat, among other practices. This study shows…


2015 | Terrestrial | Publications & Reports

High Time for Conservation: Adding the Environment to the Debate on Marijuana Liberalization

Jennifer K. Carah, Jeanette K. Howard, Sally E. Thompson, Anne G. Short Gianotti, Scott D. Bauer, Stephanie M. Carlson, David N. Dralle, Mourad W. Gabriel, Lisa L. Hulette, Brian J. Johnson, Curtis A. Knight, Sarah J. Kupferberg, Stefanie L. Martin, Rosamond L. Naylor, Mary E. Power

Marijuana cultivation can have significant negative collateral effects on the environment that are often unknown or overlooked. This study focuses on California, where by some estimates, 60–70% of the marijuana consumed in the United States is grown. The study adds teh environment to the debate…