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

Terrestrial | Science

Island Fox

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

Terrestrial | Science

Invasive Ant Removal

How can we eliminate a large-scale infestation of invasive ants – and how would we know when we have?

2019 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Wildfires and Forest Resilience: the case for ecological forestry in the Sierra Nevada

Rodd Kelsey

Forests of the Sierra Nevada and across the western U.S. are experiencing an unprecedented increase in the size and severity of wildfire along with widespread tree mortality due to drought and insect outbreaks. These developments not only threaten lives and communities but also seriously compromise…


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…


2018 | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Impact of solar and wind development on conservation values in the Mojave Desert

Sophie S. Parker, Brian S. Cohen, James Moore

This paper discusses changes in the conservation value of lands in the California Mojave Desert caused by renewable energy development that occurred between 2009 and 2016. The authors remotely assess the impacts of land use change caused by solar and wind installations in two areas…


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 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Science | Blogs

The Promise of eDNA: A New Kind of Fieldwork to Guide Conservation

Sophie Parker

This blog post discusses how environmental DNA or “eDNA” methods can be used by conservation biologists. These methods rely on the premise that DNA is shed by organisms through normal, everyday activity. DNA collected in the field is compared with known specimens to determine what…


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 | 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 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Oak habitat recovery on California's largest islands: Scenarios for the role of corvid seed dispersal

Mario B. Pesendorfer, Christopher M. Baker, Martin Stringer, Eve McDonald‐Madden, Michael Bode, A. Kathryn McEachern, Scott A. Morrison, T. Scott Sillett

A key aim of conservation is to restore ecological processes to degraded ecosystems. This study models how reintroducing an ecosystem engineer – the island scrub-jay, which is a highly efficient seed disperser – to a degraded island ecosystem could accelerate the recovery of its oak…


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

Ecological Values of the Amargosa River in California

Sophie S. Parker, Jim Moore, Leonard Warren

The 185 mile-long Amargosa River, one of only two rivers with perennial flow in the California portion of the Mojave Desert, is fed by an ancient groundwater aquifer. The river provides habitat for hundreds of organisms, including a unique suite of rare, endemic, and imperiled…


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…


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

Harnessing cross-border resources to confront climate change

Aburto-Oropeza, O., M. Edwards, S. Butterfield, and 93 additional authors

The U.S. and Mexico face many shared ecological changes due to the increased frequency and severity of droughts and rising energy demands; trends that entail economic costs for both nations and major implications for human well-being. This paper synthesizes current knowledge about the most pressing issues…


2018 | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Adapting the bioblitz to meet conservation needs

Parker, S.S., B.V. Brown, B.S. Cohen, N.S. Fraga, J.J. Knapp, Z. Principe, J. Moore, G.B. Pauly, J.M. Randall, T.A. Wake

A bioblitz is a collaborative, rapid field assessment that takes place in a given location over a short period of time. This paper discusses how bioblitz events involving experts are being used to meet the needs of conservation. The authors discuss the best practices for…


2018 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Introduction to the Special Issue on the Flora and Vegetation of the Islands of the Californias

John J. Knapp, John M. Randall

The islands off the Pacific coast of California and Baja California, from the Farallones in the north to Isla Natividad in the south, are within the California Floristic Province. Their shared flora is distinctive and rich in endemic genera, species, subspecies, and varieties not found…


2017 | Terrestrial | Science | Publications & Reports

Amargosa River Expert BioBlitz 2017 Final Report

Parker, S.S., B.S. Cohen, N. Fraga, B. Brown, J. Cole, W. Chatfield-Taylor, K. Guadalupe, G.B. Pauly, D. Cooper, M. Ordeñana

In 2017, The Nature Conservancy co-organized an “Expert BioBlitz” to explore a 26-mile stretch of the Wild and Scenic Amargosa River, located in the heart of the Mojave Desert. The event was designed be a rapid-response, high return-on-investment method for the collection of high-quality field…


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 | Planning | Publications & Reports

Regional Prioritization for Forest Restoration across California's Sierra Nevada

Rodd Kelsey, Edward Smith, Tanushree Biswas, Chris McColl, Kristen Wilson, Dick Cameron

This report provides a systematic regional-scale assessment of biodiversity, fire regime change, and fire risk to infrastructure of forested watersheds across the Sierra Nevada and prioritizes watersheds for forest restoration where the greatest risk reduction to biodiversity and human infrastructure can be achieved. For priority…