Nearly half of California is protected in some land status that prevents most kinds of intensive human land uses.  These lands support extensive natural habitats, and for many species, are a critical stronghold in an increasingly human-dominated world.

Yet, changes in the landscape in and near these places have left many in a degraded and precarious condition. Catastrophic wildfire, invasive species, and climate change threaten vast swathes of the state. Protected lands are becoming increasingly isolated by urban and agricultural development, roads, and other infrastructure. Such obstacles can limit a species’ ability to move to across the landscape and adapt to climate change.

Conservancy scientists are working to enhance the resiliency of protected lands in the face of rapid change, and to maintain the landscape connections necessary for plants and animals to adapt over time. 

Science in Action

Freshwater | Terrestrial | Science

Rewilding the San Joaquin Valley

40 years of science sets the course for the largest recovery of species in U.S. history

Terrestrial | Science

Island Fox

How do we bring the endemic island fox back from the brink of extinction?

2021 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Rewilding Agricultural Landscapes: A California Study in Rebalancing the Needs of People and Nature

H. Scott Butterfield, T. Rodd Kelsey, and Abigail K. Hart, Editors

As the world population grows, so does the demand for food, putting unprecedented pressure on agricultural lands. At the same time, climate change, soil degradation, and water scarcity mean that productivity of many of these lands is deteriorating. In many desert dryland regions, drinking wells…


2021 | Terrestrial | Technology | Economics | Science | Publications & Reports

Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative Phase 1 Restoration Wood Supply Assessment

Tom Baribault, Daniel Porter, Jessica Burton Desrocher, Douglas Larmour, Mark Rasmussen, Roy Anderson

The Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative (TCSI) area has seen recent megafires and is highly developed, making the risk new of human-caused wildfire ignitions high. In this report, experts from Mason Bruce & Girard, The Beck Group and The Nature Conservancy assess quantities of…


2021 | Terrestrial | Technology | Economics | Science | Publications & Reports

Accelerating Forest Restoration: Stimulating a Forest-Restoration Economy and Rebuilding Resilience in California’s Fire-Adapted Forests

Daniel Porter, Robert Longcor

Forests of the Sierra Nevada and across the western U.S. are under unprecedented threat from catastrophic wildfire, insect outbreaks, and drought. In this briefing paper, which was developed as a collaboration between Bain and Company and The Nature Conservancy, we assess the challenges and…


2020 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Conservation of Mojave Desert springs and associated biota: status, threats, and policy opportunities

Sophie S. Parker, Andy Zdon, William T. Christian, Brian S. Cohen, Maura Palacios Mejia, Naomi S. Fraga, Emily E. Curd, Kiumars Edalati, Mark A. Renshaw

This paper presents results from the Mojave Desert Springs research project, and discusses why the conservation of these groundwater-dependent ecosystems is so critical to biodiversity. The authors present results of a comprehensive survey of Mojave Desert springs including hydrological and ecological observations, and an…


2020 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

A meta-analysis contrasting active versus passive restoration practices in dryland agricultural ecosystems

M. Florencia Miguel, H. Scott Butterfield, Christopher J. Lortie

This meta-analysis provides a global synthesis of the which restoration practices – active vs. passive – are most successful at restoring plants, animals, and other ecosystem functions to dryland agricultural (grazing and farmlands) ecosystems, including the San Joaquin Valley of California where The Nature Conservancy…


2020 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

The utility of environmental DNA from sediment and water samples for recovery of observed plant and animal species from four Mojave Desert springs

Maura Palacios Mejia, Emily Curd, Kiumars Edalati, Mark A. Renshaw, Roy Dunn, Daniel Potter, Naomi Fraga, Jenna Moore, Justin Saiz, Robert Wayne, Sophie S. Parker

This paper presents results from the Mojave Desert Springs research project. The authors used an environmental DNA (eDNA) technique to assess biodiversity at four naturally occurring springs. They compared the effectiveness of detecting DNA in water and sediment with conventional field survey and…


2020 | Terrestrial | Technology | Publications & Reports

Remote Property Monitoring at The Nature Conservancy in California

Ethan Inlander, Katie Andrews, Contributors: Jennifer Chin, Sue Pollock, Mike McFadden, Scott Hardage, Scott Butterfield, Tod Rubin

With this publication, TNC in California marks a major shift in its approach to conservation easement monitoring. At the crossroads of conservation, stewardship and technology lies remote property monitoring, an emerging practice that uses airborne/satellite imagery and a seamless web-based platform.  This solution to meeting…


2020 | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Santa Ana Mountains to eastern Peninsular Range Conservation Connectivity Infrastructure Planning Project for Interstate 15 and Closely Associated Roadways

Dr. Winston Vickers, Karen C. Drayer, Trish Smith, Brian Cohen

Highways across the greater San Diego region in southern California are major barriers and causes of mortality for mountain lions and are contributing to the species’ genetic restriction and threat of extirpation. Due to their large territories, mountain lions must regularly cross highways in this…


2020 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Mojave Desert Springs: setting an ecological baseline

Sophie S. Parker

This article appears in the Desert Report, a news publication of the Sierra Club California/Nevada Desert Committee. The article introduces the Mojave Springs Research Project, led by The Nature Conservancy, that involves a research collaboration with UCLA, the California Botanic Garden, and Partner Engineering and…


2020 | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Roadmap to Restoration

Rodd Kelsey, Scott Butterfield, Abigail Hart, Ruthie Redmond, Hope Bigda-Peyton

This Policy Brief summarizes the results of a study on the potential for strategic habitat restoration in the San Joaquin Valley of California as an important part of reducing overall water demand to achieve groundwater sustainability under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). It also provides policy…


2020 | Terrestrial | Planning | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve Rangeland Management Plan

Butterfield, H.S., M. Katkowski, J. Cota, O. Sage, C. Sage, K. Easterday, D. Zeleke, L. Riege, S. Gennet, K. Lin, B. Leahy, M. Bell, M. Reynolds

Cattle grazing is the dominant land management tool TNC has to manage biodiversity and reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire at the TNC's Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve. This Rangeland Management Plan, intended to guide rangeland management through 2025, details the adaptive management approach TNC…


2020 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Habitat selection by spotted owls after a megafire reflects their adaptation to historical frequent-fire regimes

Gavin M. Jones, H. Anu Kramer, Sheila A. Whitmore, William J. Berigan, Douglas J. Tempel, Connor M. Wood, Brendan K. Hobart, Tedward Erker, Fidelis A. Atuo, Nicole F. Pietrunti, Rodd Kelsey, R. J. Gutierrez, M. Zachariah Peery

This study examined spotted owl habitat selection after the King Fire in California using satellite tracking of 26 different owls . The authors found that whether severe fire was "good" or "bad" for owls depended on patch size and configuration: owls selected smaller but avoided…


2020 | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Shrub and vegetation cover predict resource selection use by an endangered species of desert lizard

Christopher J. Lortie, Jenna Braun, Michael Westphal, Taylor Noble, Mario Zuliani, Emmeleia Nix, Nargol Ghazian, Malory Owen, H. Scott Butterfield

This paper evaluates how endangered species with highly restricted habitat needs and increasingly small population sizes (using blunt-nosed leopard lizard as our example), select and use available habitat. The paper paired a novel experimental – telemetry and remotely-sensed data – and analytical – resource selection…


2019 | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Green Light Study: Economic and Conservation Benefits of Low-Impact Solar Siting in California

Stephanie Dashiell, Mark Buckley, Dustin Mulvaney

In an effort to address climate change, California enacted a clean energy energy standard that is driving a market for significant amounts of renewable energy. To explore the economic benefits of developing utility-scale solar energy on low biodiversity value land, the authors conducted an analysis…


2019 | Terrestrial | Technology | Science | Publications & Reports

Parched pines: a quantitative comparison of two multi-year droughts and associated mass mortalities of bishop pine (Pinus muricata) on Santa Cruz Island, California

Annalise Taylor, Tanushree Biswas, John M. Randall, Kirk Klausmeyer, Brian Cohen

In Western North America, droughts are expected to increase in frequency and intensity as the region’s climate changes. Over past decades, land managers on Santa Cruz Island, California witnessed mass mortality of conifer forest dominated by bishop pine (Pinus muricata). These pines play a key role within…


2019 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Plant species natural abundances are determined by their growth and modification of soil resources in monoculture

Sophie S. Parker, W. Stanley Harpole, Eric W. Seabloom

This paper furthers our understanding of what makes some species rare, and others more common. The authors grew monocultures of 18 California grassland plant species and measured their growth and ability to alter soil properties such as moisture and nutrients. Then they related these metrics…


2019 | Terrestrial | Planning | Technology | Economics | Science | Publications & Reports

Power of Place: Land Conservation and Clean Energy Pathways for California

Grace C. Wu, Emily Leslie, Douglas Allen, Oluwafemi Sawyerr, D. Richard Cameron, Erica Brand, Brian Cohen, Marcela Ochoa, Arne Olson

California has ambitious climate and energy policies that call for the development of significant amounts of new zero-carbon energy by midcentury. The Power of Place study looks at multiple pathways to meet California's clean energy demand in alignment with decarbonization goals while limiting the impacts…


2019 | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Restoring Forests through Partnership: Lessons Learned from the French Meadows Project

David Edelson, Angel Hertslet

There is an urgent need to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration in the Sierra Nevada and throughout the West to reduce the risk of high-severity wildfire and promote more resilient forest conditions. This report, based on The Nature Conservancy's experience with the…