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Posts Tagged ‘Landscapes’

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A view of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has produced a video called Restoring California’s Great Estuary that explains the EcoRestore initiative which is one of the big, state-wide efforts that is aiming at restoring some fairly significant amounts of habitat to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Being that I work for a State agency called the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy, this is something that I pay a lot of attention to. But there are a lot of reasons that everyone who lives in California, and many people who live outside the state, should also be interested in this video. A large portion of the people, farms, ranches, and industries in California rely, at least in part, on water from the Delta. That fact alone should make efforts like

Also, I work with many of the people featured in this video including my boss, Campbell Ingram. Seeing talented people that I know talking about an issue that I care about makes this video that much more appealing to me, but that probably won’t have much impact on you.

Enjoy!

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Delta Conservancy Logo 3I have been working at the Delta Conservancy for a little over a year, now. In that time, one of the major projects I have been working on is our Proposition 1 Grant Program. Proposition 1 was a water bond passed by voters in 2014. Among many other things, it allocated $50 million dollars for the Delta Conservancy to give out to fund projects that would restore habitat, improve water quality, and/or support sustainable agriculture within the legal boundary of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A large part of my role here has been to help our Program Manager and higher ranking staff to form the competitive process by which organizations could submit proposals for projects, the process of reviewing and ranking those proposals to determine which will be funded, and then the management of the specific grant awards to successful projects.

In 2015, just before I began working here, the Delta Conservancy received its first round of project proposals (there will be subsequent rounds in the fall of 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019). I was very involved in reviewing those proposals and scoring them to determine which would go on to be awarded funding. We have now gone through the entire process of reviewing the proposals, recommending the most qualified proposals to our board of directors for approval, and then writing the actual grant agreements which is pretty exciting because it now means we are able to move forward with giving funds to get projects accomplished.

I thought it might be interesting to introduce you to those projects as they get underway. I am going to be the grant manager for four of the projects from our 2015 batch of proposals. The first to begin was the Lower Marsh and Sand Creek Watershed Riparian Restoration Planning Project that I wrote about here. Our second grant funded project was just signed, and it will help create a fish friendly farming certification program for growers in the Delta, and it is the one I will focus on in this post.

Fish Friendly Farming (FFF) the title given to a whole process by which growers in a region can agree to use techniques called Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs) when growing their crops. By voluntarily conforming to these BMPs, growers are using land and water resources that minimize harmful effects on fish and wildlife, and maximize conservation strategies.

Different BMPs need to be created for different geographic regions because those different regions have a huge range of factors, many or most of which may vary. What types of crops are grown in a region? What types of soils are those crops growing in? How much water is available, and of what type (groundwater versus surface water, for example)? What species of fish and wildlife are found in a region? What types of habitats occur in a region? All of these and more mean that BMPs need to be very carefully applied so that they remain consistent and useful. This link contains information and a video on the Fish Friendly Farming program that has been developed for the wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties in California.

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Fall-run Chinook Salmon

One area in which BMPs have not been well developed is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and developing this BMPs is exactly what the first goal of this project will be. A second will be to publish and distribute the Delta specific BMPs in a handbook that can be used by growers. A third goal will be to enroll Delta growers in the voluntary process so that they can become certified Fish Friendly Farms. This project will be conducted by a non-profit organization called the California Land Stewardship Institute (CLSI). The CLSI will work with growers, other agricultural specialists, ecologists, and conservation biologists to create BMPs for the major crop types in commonly grown in the Delta. This project has a budget of $89,450 awarded from the Proposition 1 Grant Fund by the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy.

In the three years that this certification development project will take, it is going to be very interesting to see what practices are identified as the most effective at protecting wildlife while still maintaining the economic output of the agricultural products. I will keep you posted on these developments and also on the other grants I will be managing as they come online.

As of this writing, we are about to receive our second round of full proposals which will then require review and scoring. I am looking forward to seeing what projects are proposed and which are successful and will be funded by the Delta Conservancy.

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Delta Conservancy Logo 3I have been working at the Delta Conservancy for just over a year now. In that time, one of the major projects I have been working on is our Proposition 1 Grant Program. Proposition 1 was a water bond passed by voters in 2014. Among many other things, it allocated $50 million dollars for the Delta Conservancy to give out to fund projects that would restore habitat, improve water quality, and/or support sustainable agriculture within the legal boundary of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A large part of my role here has been to help our Program Manager and higher ranking staff to form the competitive process by which organizations could submit proposals for projects, the process of reviewing and ranking those proposals to determine which will be funded, and then the management of the specific grant awards to successful projects.

In 2015, just before I began working here, the Delta Conservancy received its first round of project proposals (there will be subsequent rounds in the fall of 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019). I was very involved in reviewing those proposals and scoring them to determine which would go on to be awarded funding. We have now gone through the entire process of reviewing the proposals, recommending the most qualified proposals to our board of directors for approval, and then writing the actual grant agreements which is pretty exciting because it now means we are able to move forward with giving funds to get projects accomplished.

I thought it might be interesting to introduce you to those projects as they get underway. I am going to be the grant manager for four of the projects from our 2015 batch of proposals, and so will focus on those projects because they are the ones I am most intimately involved with.

Of the grants I will be managing, one has gone through the complete process and has a signed and executed grant agreement with the Delta Conservancy, and that is the one I am going to introduce here.

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The confluence of Marsh Creek (entering from the left) and Sand Creek (entering from the right) in Brentwood, CA (Photo by American Rivers).

The project is called the Lower Marsh and Sand Creek Watershed Riparian Restoration Planning Project. It was proposed by a non-profit organization named American Rivers with two major goals: 1) to develop a plan to select and organize restoration projects along the portions of Marsh Creek and Sand Creek where they flow through the cities of Brentwood, Oakley and Antioch, CA, and 2) to create and distribute guidelines for how to incorporate stormwater runoff into land use designs. This project has a budget of $73,493 to be spent over the course of three years.

The area where both goals of this project will focus is an area of heavy urban and suburban development. Of all the regions in the Delta, the cities listed above encompass the largest, and fastest growing, human population. The creeks in this area flow down canals that have very little vegetation along their banks and so provide almost no habitat for native birds, mammals, insects, fish, etc. The first goal of this planning project will help American Rivers and their partners to move quickly to acquire properties along the creeks as they become available, and also to design habitat restoration projects on those properties.

When heavy rains fall on the region, that water must go somewhere, and go there quickly. This stromwater runoff is a pulse of water that hits the system suddenly and washes debris, litter, and other pollutants into the creeks. This creates the need for dealing with these stromwater runoff flows in such a way as to minimize the negative impacts to the creeks. The second goal of this project will be the development of techniques for how property owners along the creeks can manage stromwater runoff. These techniques may include stormwater drains that have screens for catching trash that can then be easily disposed of, the formation on drainage ditches that will let stormwater runoff pool and then flow more slowly into the creek and so reduce erosion and limit the release of large amounts of pollution, and other practices that will benefit the creeks of the region. These guidelines will be incorporated into the property development handbook that they cities use and that property developers must follow.

In the three years that this planing project will take, it is going to be very interesting to see what restoration projects come to the surface and what stormwater guidelines are developed. I will keep you posted on these developments and also on the other grants I will be managing as they come online.

Now that it is fall of 2016, our second round of proposals are in the midst of being reviewed and scored. I am looking forward to seeing what projects are proposed and which are successful and will be funded by the Delta Conservancy.

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There are currently ten state conservancies operating in California. Each of these state agencies was established to promote and protect a certain part of the California landscape that was deemed by the California legislature to be of particular importance. All the state conservancies operate within the California Resources Agency. Each conservancy is under the guidance of a board of directors that is comprised of a range of individuals who represent federal, state, and local agencies and NGOs that advise each conservancy’s staff on how to accomplish their core mission. Since I started working for one of these conservancies a few months ago, I thought it might be interesting to introduce the whole set. So here they are, in order of when they were created, the California State Conservancies.

1. The California Coastal Conservancy was founded in 1976. It’s mission statement is “…to preserve, protect, and restore the resources of the California coast, ocean, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Our vision is of a beautiful, restored, and accessible coastline, ocean and San Francisco Bay Area.” This agency is tasked with managing the 1,100 miles of coastline that runs from Oregon to Mexico. In 2014, their operating budget was around $8 million.

2. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy was founded in 1979. It’s mission statement is “…to strategically buy back, preserve, protect, restore, and enhance treasured pieces of Southern California to form an interlinking system of urban, rural and river parks, open space, trails, and wildlife habitats that are easily accessible to the general public.” To accomplish this, the SMMC owns or manages thousands of acres from the Mojave Desert to the Pacific Ocean.

3. The California Tahoe Conservancy was founded in 1984. It’s mission is “…to restore and sustain a balance between the natural and the human environment and between public and private uses at Lake Tahoe.” Since its founding, it has acquired over 6,500 acres in the Tahoe Basin, and has worked to control invasive species, improve water quality, and restore forests and wetlands in the Tahoe Basin. In 2014, their operating budget was approximately $9.5 million.

4. The Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy was founded in 1991. It’s mission statement is “…to protect the natural and cultural resources of the Coachella Valley: the scenic, wildlife, cultural, geologic, and recreational resources that make this such a splendid place for people and all the other life forms with which we share this special place.” With only limited staff and funds, this conservancy has ensured the conservation of over 46,200 acres.

5. The San Joaquin River Conservancy was founded in 1995. It’s mission includes, “…develop and manage the San Joaquin River Parkway, a planned 22-mile natural and recreational area in the floodplain extending from Friant Dam to Highway 99. The Conservancy’s mission includes acquiring approximately 5,900 acres from willing sellers; developing, operating, and managing those lands for public access and recreation; and protecting, enhancing, and restoring riparian and floodplain habitat.”

6. The San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy was founded 1999. It’s mission is “…to preserve open space and habitat in order to provide for low-impact recreation and educational uses, wildlife habitat restoration and protection, and watershed improvements within our jurisdiction.” The area covered by this conservancy is across eastern Los Angeles County and western Orange County.

7. The Baldwin Hills Conservancy was founded in 2001. It’s mission is… “to acquire open space and manage public lands within the Baldwin Hills area and to provide recreation, restoration and protection of wildlife habitat within the territory for the public’s enjoyment and educational experience.” The Baldwin Hills are a small area of unincorporated Los Angeles near Culver City about 450 acres in size.

8. The San Diego River Conservancy was founded in 2003. This Conservancy’s enabling legislation states that… “The agency’s mission, the restoration and conservation of the San Diego River Area, is accomplished by (1) acquiring, managing and conserving land; and (2) protecting or providing recreational opportunities, open space, wildlife species and habitat, wetlands, water quality, natural flood conveyance, historical / cultural resources, and educational opportunities.” One of the major goals of this Conservancy is to create a river-long park and hiking trail that will run from the river’s headwaters near the town of Julian to the Pacific Ocean.

9. The Sierra Nevada Conservancy was founded in 2004. It’s mission states that the “Sierra Nevada Conservancy initiates, encourages, and supports efforts that improve the environmental, economic and social well-being of the Sierra Nevada Region, its communities and the citizens of California.” The Sierra Nevada Conservancy operates throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains providing funding for projects that support it’s mission.

10. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy was founded in 2010. It’s mission is… “Working collaboratively and in coordination with local communities, the Conservancy will lead efforts to protect, enhance, and restore the Delta’s economy, agriculture and working landscapes, and environment, for the benefit of the Delta region, its local communities, and the citizens of California.” The Delta Conservancy operates throughout the legal boundary of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Suisun Marsh by providing funding, support, and project management to efforts that further it’s mission.

 

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The idea of a wetland that can move from place to place is an odd one, but in many ways it is not a new one. Basically, a walking wetland is when someone floods a piece of land and lets a wetland grow there for a while. Then, after some pre-determined amount of time has passed, that piece of land is drained and a different piece of land is flooded. A wetland is then allowed to grown on the new piece and, viola, the wetland has walked!

This technique is a lot like crop rotation schemes that have been around for just about as long as agriculture. Letting land lay fallow lets that land recharge some of its nutrients and so be more fertile the next time a crop is grown on it. Walking wetlands are just another type of rotations, but this rotation is to cover the land with shallow water. Not much water is needed to make this work. Generally, about 4 inches is the average depth! Letting the land be flooded in those 4 inches for from 1 to 4 years lets amazing things happen!

Walking Wetland 01

First year walking wetland in the Klamath Basin.

For one, a lovely wetland springs up quite quickly. In the first year, the area is generally covered in grasses and other fairly short plants that only raise above the water a relatively short distance and that grow in a fairly open pattern with lots of space for shorebirds to walk around and forage. In the second year, tules and cattails grow up. This form tall and dense stands. The small open patches are preferred by a wide range of duck species though the shorebirds don’t tend to like this habitat as much. In subsequent years, some habitat modification, such as mowing, is generally needed to keep the tules and cattails at a level that still allows for birds and other wildlife species to access the wetland. Otherwise the stands of tules and cattails grow so dense that only a few species will utilize them.

Another amazing thing is that some crop pathogens that live in the soil drown. Many pathogenic microbes cannot survive a year or two of being submerged. Impressively, many beneficial soil microbes actually can survive this long underwater, so when the land is drained, the good microbes are still present and many of the bad ones are gone! This has an economic benefit because growers then need to buy less pesticides. This has an environmental benefit because grower need to apply less pesticides.

A third amazing thing is that all the birds that come and use the wetland leave their waste behind! Bird guano is fantastic fertilizer, and having a few thousand ducks, geese, and shorebirds wandering around can result in the grower needing to buy and apply less fertilizer and also lead to a boost in crop production!

Walking Wetland 02

An older walking wetland in the Klamath Basin.

Along the Pacific Flyway, walking wetlands have been really pioneered in the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge along the California-Oregon boarder, which is home to the first officially titled Walking Wetlands Program. It has since also been adopted in the Skagit Valley in northern Washington state. Additionally, several groups in central California, including the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy where I work, are looking at using walking wetlands in the California Delta.

For better or for worse, setting aside habitat exclusively for wildlife use is not going to be able to secure enough land to protect that majority of species. Instead, finding ways for agriculture and wildlife to both succeed is the only way that longer-term conservation is going to be successful, and walking wetlands are a terrific example of what that can look like.

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Biodiversity is the number of species in a given area. The largest measure of biodiversity is the estimated total number of species on the planet (somewhere around 10 million, although estimates of as high as 40 million are not unreasonable). Other scales are often more useful such as how many species occur in a country or mountain range or nature preserve. Ecologists have several measures for comparing diversity in different places.

Species Richness is the number of species found in a particular community. Measures of species richness such as the Shannon Diversity Index are weighted to show that one community if made of many species that all are equally numerous versus another community that has just as many species, but a small number are extremely numerous and the rest are quite rare. Species Richness can also be viewed at different special scales. Alpha Diversity is the number of species in a particular designated area suchas a park or reserve. For example, in the diagram below, Area 1 in Region 1 has an Alpha Diversity of 5. Region 1 has an average Alpha Diversity of 6 ((5+6+7)/3). Gamma Diversity is the number of species in a larger geographic area such as a mountain range or continent. For example, Region 1 has a Gamma Diversity of 7 (ABCDEFG). Beta Diversity is a measure of how species composition changes along an environmental or geographic al gradient such as moving from headwaters to mouth of a river. For example, Region 1 has a Beta Diversity of 1.2 indicating that most of the species that occur at one end of the gradient still occur at the other, in other words, there is low species turnover.

Region 1:     Area 1          Area 2          Area 3               Alpha     Gamma     Beta

Species:          BCDEF        ABCDEF      ABCDEFG              6                7            1.2

Region 2:     Area 1          Area 2          Area 3

Species:           ABC              DEFG            DGHIJ               4               10           2.5

Region 3:     Area 1          Area 2          Area 3

Species:           ABC               DEF                GHI               3                 9            3.0

As can be seen by comparing Region 1, Region 2 and Region 3 to each other, different arrangements of species can be represented with different measures of diversity. For example, while Region 2 has the highest total number of species (Gamma Diversity), Region 1 has the highest number of species per specific location (Alpha Diversity), and Region 3 has the highest turnover of species across the whole region (Beta Diversity).

There are other measures of diversity that are also useful in ecology. Genetic Diversity indicates how much variation exists at the DNA level in a species or population and is often used as a measure of how evolutionarily adaptable that species or population is. Ecological Diversity is a measure of how many different types of communities occur in a given ecosystem.

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I do not re-post material very often, but this selection of photos (which can be found on pinterest) was so beautiful that I wanted to save it for myself and share it as well.  The last photo really is spectacular.

http://www.lifebuzz.co/youve-seen-nature-photos-before-but-never-like-this-the-last-one-blew-me-away/

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