PROTECT California’s native species and ecosystems

California’s wetlands and riparian woodlands and forests have suffered extensive losses. An estimated 80–90 percent of these productive and biologically diverse landscapes have been altered or lost in the past 150 years. Less than 10 percent of the Central Valley’s historic grasslands remain. Some of California’s once robust native fish populations are at or near historic lows. Declining species and lost habitat disrupt the cultural, spiritual, and ecological practices of California’s Native American tribes. The seasonal timing of biological events is changing too, from bird migration to mismatched flowering times with pollinator insect emergence.

Protected lands and green spaces provide refuge for the wildlife and plant species that sustain ecosystems and the economy. They provide clean air, clean water, snowpack water storage and carbon sequestration. They offer respite and open space for recreation and renewal. As climate change worsens, functioning natural systems will become increasingly critical for sustaining the health and resilience of our communities, and addressing wildfire, flood, and drought threats. How and where we protect habitats to support species will require coordinated collaborative action.

Through our collective acquisition, management and conservation activities, we have tremendous opportunity to integrate the protection and preservation of California native plants, biodiversity and ecosystems into our actions. Investments and plans should place highest priority on actions that support biodiversity at risk. Our funding and granting decisions can be leveraged to accelerate land conservation of all types, from wild spaces to working lands.

The California Natural Resources Agency is taking immediate action to support the goal of protecting California’s biological diversity. These include:

A hatching leatherback sea turtle. Photo: NOAA. 

A hatching leatherback sea turtle. Photo: NOAA.

Whales and Sea Turtles – The California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) is advancing a Strategy for protecting whales and sea turtles and ensuring thriving fisheries by reducing the risk of entanglement in California fishing gear, as one part of a broader Whale & Sea Turtle Protection Plan to be developed by 2022. This Strategy for reducing entanglement risk includes advancing collaborative partnerships, developing the best available science, supporting gear innovations and conducting disentanglement response and outreach. OPC has approved about $5.5 million supporting active projects of the $7.5 million in General Fund allocated to OPC for whale and sea turtle entanglement.

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus in Riparian Brush RabbitsSince March 2020, Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV2) has been spreading in wild rabbit and hare populations in the southwestern US and Mexico with mortality rates as high as 90%. The virus was first detected in California in early May, where it has continued to rapidly spread. In anticipation of the disease reaching the range of the endangered riparian brush rabbit (Sylvilagus bachmani riparius) in Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties, biologists and veterinarians from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, working in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oakland Zoo, have initiated a program to protect the subspecies from possible extinction by trapping and moving a small number of this species to a bio-secure facility at the Oakland Zoo to serve as an emergency breeding population, in the event that RHDV2 results in the extirpation of the wild population. Veterinarians will initiate a vaccination trial on the captive rabbits, and if the trial proves the vaccine to be safe and effective, approximately 200 wild riparian brush rabbits will be trapped, vaccinated, and released in the wild to establish a core population with immunity to RHDV2.

Invasive Sargassum horneri spotted in Monterey Bay earlier this summer. This observation was made by a citizen scientist with Reef Check California. Rapid reporting of the observation allowed the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to mobilize quickly, eradicating the Sargassum and preventing spread. Photo: Reef Check California.

Invasive Sargassum horneri spotted in Monterey Bay earlier this summer. This observation was made by a citizen scientist with Reef Check California. Rapid reporting of the observation allowed the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to mobilize quickly, eradicating the Sargassum and preventing spread. Photo: Reef Check California.

Early Warning and Forecasting System for Coastal Biodiversity – The California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) and the California Academy of Sciences are partnering to build a statewide Early Warning and Forecasting System for biodiversity change on the California coast. This system will combine crowdsourced volunteer observations with state-of-the-art ecological models to track key metrics of ocean and coastal health over time (e.g. distribution and abundance of native species, spread of invasive species, emergence of marine disease) and predict changes in those metrics associated with a changing climate. This effort will provide resource managers with the tools necessary to slow or stop biodiversity loss in California’s coastal and marine habitats and will also empower community scientists to take an active role in conserving biodiversity.

Regional Conservation Investments Strategies Program – In January 2017, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife established the Regional Conservation Investment Strategies (RCIS) Program following passage of Assembly Bill (AB) 2087. The RCIS Program promotes voluntary, non-binding, regional conservation intended to protect declining and vulnerable focal species and other conservation elements from climate change, habitat loss, and other pressures, and to protect and restore wildlife habitat connectivity throughout the state. In the first three years of its existence, nine RCISs have been approved or are in preparation, including the first-ever RCIS, completed by the Santa Clara Open Space Authority for Santa Clara County. Together, these RCISs will provide strategies to protect hundreds of species and their habitats in over eleven counties and allow current or future projects, including crossings of obstructing roadways, aqueducts, and other infrastructure, to efficiently offset impacts using mitigation credit agreements.

Whale-Safe Fisheries – A working group has been convened by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, in partnership with California Ocean Protection Council and National Marine Fisheries Service, to address an increase in large whale entanglements in Dungeness crab fishing gear. Established in September 2015, the Working Group is comprised of commercial and recreational fishermen, environmental organization representatives, members of the disentanglement network, and state and federal agencies.

White-Nose Syndrome Threat in Bats – White-nose Syndrome (WNS), a deadly fungal disease of hibernating bats, is estimated to have killed more than six million bats in eastern North America and has been steadily moving west since first detected in 2006. In 2018 and 2019, the causal fungus was detected at low levels in two northern California bat maternity roosts. Since then, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and its partners began implementing the California WNS Response Plan, which includes enhanced disease surveillance, population monitoring, and hibernation ecology research for susceptible bat species. Together, these actions help inform disease management and control actions needed to protect California’s 25 bat species and ensure their important ecosystem roles are not lost.

The following plans and strategies show some of the resources available to help guide biodiversity protection. We will add to this list as the Collaborative develops new information and exchanges knowledge over time.

Areas of Conservation Emphasis is an effort to analyze large amounts of map-based data so decisions can be informed around important goals like conservation of biodiversity, habitat connectivity, and climate change resiliency. The ACE maps provide a coarse level view of information for conservation planning purposes, ranging from ecological research and modeling to local land-use planning and conservation decision-making.

Bay Area Greenprint provides a regional source of accessible conservation data and a framework for interpretation for planners, agencies, conservation practitioners, and other community stakeholders to facilitate the incorporation of natural and agricultural values information early into land use and infrastructure planning.

PAD-US is America’s official national inventory of U.S. terrestrial and marine protected areas (List of National Geospatial Data Assets) that are dedicated to the preservation of biological diversity and to other natural, recreation and cultural uses, managed for these purposes through legal or other effective means. This spatially explicit inventory is designed to let any user – from the general public to professional land managers – know exactly what lands are protected anywhere in the United States and allows them to easily use this inventory in conservation, land management, planning, recreation, and other uses.

The Regional Conservation and Development Planning Tool (RePlan), developed by the Strategic Growth Council, aligns and advances regional planning programs and processes across California. This web application integrates current environmental, social, and economic datasets with planning tools to implement State and regional conservation, development, and resilience goals.

State Wildlife Action Plan examines the health of wildlife and prescribes actions to conserve California’s wildlife and vital habitat before they become rarer and more costly to protect. The plan also promotes wildlife conservation while furthering responsible development and addressing the needs of a growing human population.