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?

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…

2012 | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

An Approach to Enhance the Conservation-Compatibility of Solar Energy Development

Cameron, D.R., B.S. Cohen, S.A. Morrison

California, like many regions in the world, needs to plan for emissions reductions and domestic clean energy. Ideally, that would be done in a way that is strategic, not reactionary. Through science-based landscape planning for conservation and energy, the trade-offs between energy development and habitat…

2012 | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Small Reserves Can Successfully Preserve Rare Plants Despite Management Challenges

Parker, S.S

Small preserves are difficult to manage, but they can be important for rare plant protection. The article outlines the management challenges faced by small preserves, provides a case study from The San Bernardino Mountains of southern California, and suggests strategies and management recommendations for rare…

2010 | Terrestrial | Planning | Maps & Webmaps

Renewables in the Mojave Desert

Brian Cohen

This map and a series of others in the Conservancy's 2010 Mojave Desert Ecoregional Assessment have played a guiding role in siting—and mitigating the impacts of—renewable energy development throughout the Mojave Desert. The Assessment helped shape the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. Completed and signed in 2016, the…

2010 | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Mojave Desert Ecoregional Assessment

John M. Randall, Sophie S. Parker, James Moore, Brian Cohen, Laura Crane, Bill Christian, Dick Cameron, Jason B. Mackenzie, Kirk Klausmeyer, Scott Morrison

Regional conservation planning is critical to inform land and resource use decisions. The Mojave Desert Ecoregional Assessment represents an important advance in such planning, because of how its output  characterized not just areas of high conservation value, but how conservation values distributed and graded across…

2010 | Terrestrial | Planning | Data

Mojave Desert Ecoregional Assessment data

Dick Cameron , Brian Cohen

This dataset is a product of the Mojave Desert Ecoregional Assessment and characterizes the distribution of biodiversity conservation values and land disturbance to help inform regional land-use and conservation investment. The data were grouped into four categories of conservation value: Ecologically Core, Ecologically Intact,…

2010 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Interfacing models of wildlife habitat and human development to predict the future distribution of puma habitat

CL Burdett, KR Crooks, DM Theobald, KR Wilson, EE Boydston, LM Lyren, RN Fisher, TW Vickers, SA Morrison, WM Boyce

Long-term studies of animal movement can generate data that allow for robust modeling of habitat use by the species. This study characterizes and maps the distribution of habitat for mountain lions in coastal southern California, and combines those data with models of projected urban growth…

2008 | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Conserving connectivity: some lessons from mountain lions in southern California

Scott Morrison, Walter Boyce

Critical for biodiversity conservation is the retention of ecological connectivity in the landscape, so that wildlife—and the natural processes that sustain wildlife—can move around. Ideally, that cohesion would be protected by conserving landscape-scale linkages—large swaths of relatively intact habitat joining core reserve lands. Where linkages…

2000 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Arthropods in urban habitat fragments in southern California: area, age and edge effects

Douglas T. Bolger, Andrew V. Suarez, Kevin R. Crooks, Scott A. Morrison, Ted J. Case

Habitat fragmentation ushers in a wide array of ecological changes, and understanding the drivers and impacts of those changes is critical for conservation management. This study examines an often overlooked suite of taxa – arthropods – and describes patterns of abundance and diversity across a…