Measuring Nature’s Benefits
The Riparian Habitat Quantification Tool, which is free to download, is a science-based decision-support tool that measures water quality and wildlife habitat improvements gained from riparian restoration. It is applicable across California’s Central Valley.
In undertaking voluntary restoration projects on their properties, California’s farmers, ranchers and other landowners enhance natural resources, like streams and rivers. However, they also often bear the brunt of the costs associated with restoration. Habitat enhancement projects can cost tens of thousands of dollars, effectively deterring many landowners from engaging in much-needed restoration due to lacking financial support.
Sustainable Conservation has worked to better connect landowners undertaking restoration projects with those who benefit from the stewardship by developing a tool to measure and communicate the improvements. The Riparian Habitat Quantification Tool measures and reports on improved water quality and habitat, which helps restoration funders understand exactly what their investments achieve on the ground.
Perfecting Tool for Wider Adoption
Sustainable Conservation began developing the tool in 2011 in conjunction with scientists at Stillwater Sciences, Point Blue Conservation Science and The Xerces Society. We also conducted an extensive review of existing tools and formed a Technical Advisory Committee to provide guidance and feedback during the tool’s development process. Advisory Committee members included a range of natural resource and modeling specialists, academic institutions, environmental non-profits and environmental-consulting firms.
In 2012 and 2013, we tested the tool on about 20 restoration projects across six counties in California’s Central Valley — from Yolo to Merced County. We focused the ground-truthing in San Joaquin County, where the Mokelumne River flows, as part of a broader effort with partners from EDF, Environmental Incentives, Sierra Nevada Conservancy, Protected Harvest, The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, and a broad Stakeholder Working Group.
Current Work Plan
Sustainable Conservation is currently working to facilitate the uptake of the tool by public agencies to help guide where existing government grants could best be utilized in terms of environmental outcomes.
Natural resource agencies have historically struggled to determine how much habitat improvement a restoration project can provide before they make a funding decision. The quantification tool is able to predict a project’s outcomes before implementation. The value to natural resource agencies is threefold:
- Agencies can predict estimated results from proposed restoration projects to inform project ranking before making grant allocations;
- Agencies can target grant allocations to the most beneficial projects;
- Agencies can report grant outcomes and track over time in a consistent way to show how individual projects are adding up to cumulatively achieve watershed health goals.
We believe this effort is critical to driving thousands of restoration projects on private lands that help restore the health of our river systems and wildlife habitat in California. The result is improved decision-making and reporting that achieves conservation outcomes, like clean water and wildlife habitat, in a more cost-effective way.
“Stillwater Sciences. 2012 and 2014. Beta Quantification Tool for Riparian Benefits (Riparian Bird and Aquatic Habitat, Downstream Flood Attenuation) and Pollinator Habitat. Prepared by Stillwater Sciences, Berkeley, California for Sustainable Conservation, San Francisco, California.”+
We are grateful to our funding supporters, including: The Seaver Institute, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Lennox Foundation, Anonymous Foundation, Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund, The Morgan Family Foundation.
The Quantification tool has been developed with intentional transparency and easy extension to be adapted to other regions of the Central Valley, California. As such, permission to use, copy, modify and distribute this publication and its referenced documents for any purpose and without fee is hereby granted, provided that the following acknowledgement notice appears in all copies or modified versions: “This content was created in part through the adaptation of procedures and publications developed by Sustainable Conservation and Stillwater Sciences, but is not the responsibility or property of these entities.”