Lech Naumovich, Executive Director at Golden Hour, and Ryan Branciforte (Board Member at Golden Hour) have been collaborating on a large-scale conservation project sponsored by the Bay Area Open Space Council over the past 6 years.  This project specifically looks at providing a formula and guidance for land conservation efforts in the Bay Area.  Lech served on the Steering Committee and the Vegetation Focus group during this project while working for the East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. The text of the article, found below, is reproduced with permission from CNPS.

In 2005, the Bay Area Open Space Council, a collaborative of member organizations actively involved in permanently protecting and stewarding important parks, trails, and agricultural lands in the San Francisco Bay Area, embarked on a challenging endeavor to design a conservation plan to preserve the region’s last wild places and working lands. Creating a plan for a 4.5 million acre landscape torn between urbanization and wilderness was not an easy task. The idea was to help direct new land protection efforts towards conserving lands that create a connected, bay-wide reserve of important habitat, while acknowledging the constraints of urban areas.

The Conservation Lands Network (CLN) identifies the type, amounts, and distribution of habitats needed to sustain diverse and healthy ecosystems in upland habitats. The project was initiated by organizing moderated sessions with biologists, land managers, conservation advocates, and planners. These sessions helped identify important areas and issues to consider alongside the scientifically driven methodology.

Members from the Bay Area’s CNPS chapters were invited to participate, and several botanists helped contribute specific information on target plant species and vegetation types that could serve well as conservation goals. The CLN plan, which stratifies the region into biogeographic Landscape Units, uniquely takes into account conservation targets at both the landscape and local level. Rare plant occurrences, for instance, are included as local targets.

How were plant and vegetation targets selected? Local rare plant botanists were given access to a list of taxa in the California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB) segregated by landscapes. These local experts then submitted a list of five target taxa that were highest priorities for conservation within each landscape, based on local knowledge. The five selected plants coincided with a number of rare vegetation types, although some were located in a matrix of more common vegetation, such as annual grassland. The location of these unusual plants in more common habitat types was especially important in prioritizing conservation in more common vegetation types.

So how did the planning effort do at protecting rare plants and vegetation? The plan set high goals for rare vegetation types such as coastal prairie and juniper woodland and scrub, attempting to include 90% of those targets within the final network design. How about the rare plants located in more common vegetation stands, such as San Joaquin spearscale (Atriplex joaquinana). Fifteen CNDDB records of spearscale exist in the Mt. Diablo landscape, but none of these populations is protected. The CLN calls for the protection of 13 known stands, while the other two were located in urban or rural residential areas. There are other success stories similar to this example.

Coyote Ridge and beyond: one of the conservation areas highlighted in the CLN report

One notable goal of the Conservation Lands Network is to make the results accessible to all users regardless of their GIS skill level. The CLN Explorer, a new Web-based tool, allows users to draw the boundary of a property or area of interest, and explore the natural resources that may be present. Users can access numerous datasets compiled or developed by the project, including vegetation types, rarity rankings, protected lands, streams, topography, conservation suitability, and converted lands. In addition to just viewing the information on screen, the Explorer software also allows users to generate custom reports on areas they designate, and shows natural resources which are present as well as biodiversity.

To access the Conservation Lands Network final report, GIS data, the Bay Nature article on this exciting initiative, and to use the Explorer tool, visit www.bayarealands.org, and spread the news about this bold new plan.

We hope to see this auspicious plan implemented over the next 20-30 years, helping create a sustainable network of conservation lands for our native flora and fauna… and people too!

Written by GoldenHour

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