With California’s population on track to reach 50 million people, the demand for energy, water, and land will continue to grow. Climate change will compound the strains on society and the environment. Most of this population growth will be centered in larger cities that are already struggling to maintain aging transportation and water infrastructure.

But nature can play an important role in the redevelopment of these systems. Wetlands treat storm water, oyster reefs buffer storm surges, and shade trees reduce heat, providing the benefits of traditional infrastructure while adding scenery and wildlife habitat.

Conservancy scientists are demonstrating how society can minimize trade-offs between development and conservation through innovative regional planning. And by showing what nature can do for cities–and what cities can do for nature–we can develop models for improving the quality of urban life, with broad application on an urbanizing planet.

Science in Action

Terrestrial | Science

Putting Nature on the Map in L.A.

How do we guide urban infrastructure investments to solve problems for people and nature?

Terrestrial | Planning

Tortoises and Solar Power

Can science help reduce tradeoffs between development and conservation?

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

Water Supply and Habitat Resiliency for a Future Los Angeles River: Site-Specific Natural Enhancement Opportunities Informed by River Flow and Watershed-Wide Action

Brian Cohen, Shona Ganguly, Sophie Parker, John Randall, Jill Sourial, and Lara Weatherly of The Nature Conservancy, Land IQ, Natural History Museum Los Angeles County, WRC Consulting Services Inc., Travis Longcore, University of Southern California, Connective Issue, Inc.

As a basic principle of ecological systems, a watershed’s hydrology determines the flow characteristics of its river system. These flows define what the biological characteristics of that river will be, which in turn determine what kinds of habitat enhancement projects will succeed at various locations along…


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

Ecological spillover dynamics of organisms from urban to natural landscapes

Jill E. Spear, Erik K. Grijalva, Julia S. Michaels, Sophie S. Parker

This paper discusses the impact of urban-dwelling plants and animals on regional wildland populations, both within and across species. The authors reviewed the global conservation literature and identified seven ecological processes that have the potential to be affected by spillover from urban to wildland areas.…


2018 | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Assessment of Wildlife Crossing Sites for the Interstate 15 and Highway 101 Freeways in Southern California

Seth P. D. Riley, Trish Smith, T. Winston Vickers

Freeways are barriers to wildlife passage and gene exchange. In Southern California, mountain lion movement has been severely restricted due to this infrastructure. As a result, the mountain lions in the Santa Ana and Santa Monica  Mountains have become severely inbred, threatening their long-term health and…


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…


2017 | Terrestrial | Planning | Microsite

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 | Publications & Reports

Solar Energy Development and Regional Conservation Planning

D.R. Cameron, L. Crane, S.S. Parker, J.M. Randall

This book chapter discusses how California's greenhouse gas emission reduction goals spurred solar development in the Mojave Desert—development that could have negative impacts if poorly sited. The authors discuss their wall-to-wall assessment of conservation values across the 32-million-acre Mojave Desert, and their estimation of…


2016 | Terrestrial | Publications & Reports

Prioritizing Riparian Conservation: A Methodology Developed for the Santa Clara River, California

Sophie S. Parker, Lily N. Verdone, E.J. Remson, Brian S. Cohen

This study addresses a basic problem shared by many riparian conservation projects: parcelization. Having dozens or hundreds of owners along a river can make conserving riparian ecosystems a difficult and expensive enterprise. In the study, the authors present a science-based method for prioritizing the acquisition…


2015 | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Conservation Planning for Offsetting the Impacts of Development: A Case Study of Biodiversity and Renewable Energy in the Mojave Desert

Jason Kreitler, Carrie A. Schloss, Oliver Soong, Lee Hannah, Frank W. Davis

In the past, mitigation to address impacts from development have lacked a regional planning perspective resulting in efficient design across a set of sites for a suite of impacts. This paper introduces a tool that uses spatial prioritization to identify optimized mitigation opportunities for solar…


2015 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Survival and mortality of pumas (Puma concolor) in a fragmented, urbanizing landscape

Vickers, T.W., J. N. Sanchez, C. Johnson, S.A. Morrison, R. Botta, T. Smith, B.S. Cohen, P. Huber, W.M. Boyce

Conservation of wide-ranging species like mountain lions is especially difficult in highly fragmented landscapes, such as coastal southern California. Research into their populations can provide important insights into what is needed to protect them, such as where to prioritize habitat conservation or restoration. This paper…


2015 | Terrestrial | Planning | Economics | Science | Publications & Reports

Integrating Land Conservation and Renewable Energy Goals in California: A Study of Costs and Impacts Using the Optimal Renewable Energy Build-Out (ORB) Model

The Nature Conservancy: Erica Brand, Laura Crane, Dick Cameron, Energy and Environmental Economics: Grace C. Wu, Nick Schlag

Integrating ecological data into long-term energy planning is critical to meet both California’s long term energy and conservation goals. This report assesses the potential trade-offs associated with renewable energy build-out by evaluating the land and water use implications and cost of a range of potential…


2015 | Terrestrial | Maps & Webmaps

Conservation Legacy in Marin County, California

Katie Andrews, Megan Webb, Robin Cox

This interactive webmap takes a multimedia approach to showcase the Conservancy’s conservation legacy in Marin County, California. Eleven achievements are profiled with photographs and summaries that provide a “then and now” perspective. 


2014 | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Modeling residential development in California from 2000 to 2050: Integrating wildfire risk, wildland and agricultural encroachment

M.L. Mann, P. Berck, M.A. Moritz, E. Batllori, J.G. Baldwin, C.K. Gately, D.R. Cameron

Between 1940 and 2000, nearly 10 million housing units were constructed in California. This new development led to increased interaction between human and natural communities. Tha authors of this paper modeled the extent and intensity of future housing settlements between 2000 and 2050 using three…


2014 | Terrestrial | Publications & Reports

Incorporating critical elements of city distinctiveness into urban biodiversity conservation

Sophie Parker

Strategies for preserving the Earth’s biodiversity that can be employed within cities are likely to become more common as urban areas continue to increase in size and number. Progress towards the development of effective conservation methods for urban areas is impeded by several factors, including…


2014 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Fractured genetic connectivity threatens a southern California puma (Puma concolor) population

H.B. Ernest, T.W. Vickers, S.A. Morrison, M.R. Buchalski, W.M. Boyce

Highly fragmented landscapes can pose myriad threats to wide-ranging species like mountain lions. Coastal southern California has long been the focus of research into demographics, genetics, and movement patterns of lions, in large part to inform conservation planning. This paper presents genetic data, which combine…


2013 | Terrestrial | Planning | Data

Western San Joaquin Valley Least Conflict Solar Energy Assessment data

Butterfield, H.S., D. Cameron, E. Brand, M. Webb, E. Forsburg, M. Kramer, E. O’Donoghue, L. Crane

The Western San Joaquin Valley Least Conflict Solar Energy Assessment characterizes the land use constraints and opportunities associated with siting solar energy facilities in the Western San Joaquin Valley (WSJV). Because the San Joaquin Valley currently has no official process to develop a conservation and…


2013 | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Western San Joaquin Valley Least Conflict Solar Energy Assessment

Butterfield, H.S., D. Cameron, E. Brand, M. Webb, E. Forsburg, M. Kramer, E. O’Donoghue, L. Crane

A Conservancy analysis of the western Mojave Desert identified where human activities had degraded the conservation value of lands making them potentially low impact locations for development of solar facilities. In this assessment authors applied that same approach in the Western San Joaquin Valley—an area with…


2013 | Terrestrial | Planning | Maps & Webmaps

Western San Joaquin Valley Least Conflict Solar Energy Assessment webmap

Megan Webb, Scott Butterfield

This webmap is a product of The Nature Conservancy’s 2013 Western San Joaquin Valley (WSJV) Least Conflict Solar Energy Assessment which characterizes the land use and conservation constraints and opportunities associated with siting solar energy facilities in the WSJV in California. This approach identified areas with high…


2012 | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Solar Energy Development in the Western Mojave Desert

Cameron, D., S. Parker, B. Cohen, J. Randall, B. Christian, J. Moore, L. Crane, S. A. Morrison

Industrial-scale renewable energy generation facilities can have sizable footprints and therefore significant impact on the conservation values of a landscape. This assessment focused on a region experiencing intense development pressure, the western Mojave Desert, to highlight how facilities could be sited to have lower impact…