Panel discussion features presentations on SFEI’s upcoming report, A Delta Renewed, and DFW’s Delta Conservation Framework effort
In April of 2013, the Delta Stewardship Council adopted the Delta Plan,a comprehensive, long-term management plan for the Delta that created policies and recommendations to further the coequal goals for the Delta of improving statewide water supply reliability and protecting and restoring the ecosystem, while protecting and enhancing the Delta as a place.
At the time the Delta Plan was adopted, state and federal agencies were working towards a habitat conservation planning approach with the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). The 2009 Delta Reform Act provided that if the BDCP were to be approved as a comprehensive habitat plan, as well as meet other requirements set forth in the act, the BDCP would be incorporated into the Delta Plan; so the Council chose not to duplicate the work on ecosystem restoration with the anticipation that the BDCP would be completed as such.
However, in May 2015 when the DWR and the USBR decided to no longer pursue the habitat conservation approach, the Council made a commitment to revisit the Delta Plan and assess the need for an ecosystem restoration amendment, as well as an amendment for conveyance, storage, and water operations amendment which is already underway.
In June of this year, the Department of Fish and Wildlife announced its intention to adopt a Delta Conservation Framework that will include new implementation and policy guidance. The Delta Conservation Framework will address elements of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan that were not included in the Eco Restore initiative, and is intended to continue on the work of Eco Restore on a long-term basis. This conservation framework will guide an ecosystem restoration amendment to the Delta Plan, as well as grant making by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and others.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife has also providing funding for the San Francisco Estuary Institute to produce A Delta Renewed, the third in a series of reports that has includes SFEI’s Delta Historical Ecology Report and the Delta Landscape Metrics report.
The Delta Conservation Framework and the SFEI reports will lay the foundation for a Delta Plan ecosystem restoration amendment to address the conservation of terrestrial, transitional, and aquatic habitats, as well as the integration at the landscape scale. The Delta Council staff will rely on guidance from these two efforts along with lessons learned from the first three years of the Delta Plan’s implementation to inform the development of a proposed Delta Plan ecosystem restoration amendment.
At the September meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, councilmembers were briefed on both of these efforts by Dr. Letitia Grenier, co-director of the San Francisco Estuary Institute’s Resilient Landscapes Program; Dr. Brook Jacobs, Senior Environmental Scientist in the water branch of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, supervising staff working on Delta Conservation Framework, California Water Fix and the Water Storage Investment Program; and Dr. Christina Sloop, Senior Environmental Scientist in the water branch of Department of Fish and Wildlife, recently joining the agency to lead the Delta conservation planning effort.
DR. LETITIA GRENIER
Dr. Grenier began by noting that the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) has been doing science for almost a decade, trying to understand how the Delta used to work historically, how it works now, and how it could work better in the future to do the things such as support native wildlife, or have a robust food web.
The first report, the Historical Ecology Report, was released in 2012. In 2014, SFEI produced A Delta Transformed, which tried to understand the transformation of the historical landscape to the current landscape in the middle, an important report, because the fundamental transformation of the Delta really informs what can be done in the future to transform it again, she said. The third report, A Delta Renewed, should be released in about a month, she said.
Dr. Grenier then presented a slide with quotes from other documents which speak to the foundation of how they approached the science. “That was to look at very large scale, holistic, long-term system-based restoration of the Delta,” she said. “This is not a plan for restoring one species or one place; this is a plan for restoring the entire system. In some ways, it’s very different than a lot of what’s required in the past in a regulatory way, so that science isn’t out there yet, and that’s why the Department hired us to try and come up with this approach. We were able to do it somewhat independently without a lot of political pressure. I think that’s one of the strengths of our series of reports.”
Dr. Grenier described the historical Delta as basically one big wetland with several rivers flowing through it. “It was really a lot of Deltas that poured into one place,” she said. “Here’s a view of the Sacramento River now. So this is just a quick overview that we have radically transformed this place almost 100%.”
SFEI has approached this work by having a Landscape Interpretation Team which is an all-star team of scientists that review and give input on their work. “We feel we’ve been able to have the most up-to-date and best available science because we’re drawing on a lot of local and national expertise,” she said.
To start the holistic long-view spatial scale approach, the first they asked was what do people want the Delta to do ecologically that it’s not doing now; this resulted in the list of ecological functions listed in the band in yellow on the chart. Five of the eight ecological functions are about supporting different groups of wildlife, such as support native fish, support marsh wildlife, and support riparian wildlife along streams; but then beyond that, they also identified having a robust food web, maintain biodiversity, and to have wildlife populations to be able to evolve with natural selection, or no matter how big their habitats are, they are not going to be able to face climate change, she said.
The team then took a deep technical ecological approach to structure the work, making measurements of how the landscape changed that would affect these desired functions; those are the items listed in the pink boxes on the chart.
Dr. Grenier then presented a slide showing the change from the historical Delta to the modern Delta. “You can see just by looking at the colors in the change from blue to pink,” she said, noting that the information is also displayed in the bar graph. “I explained this to my four year old a year ago, and he said, ‘Oh, I get it, Mommy. We’ve taken food for wildlife and turned it into food for people.’ And that’s exactly what happened. There was a big wetland here, it fed wildlife, and now we have a big, really productive agricultural area. So at the most basic level, that’s been the transformation, but there’s a lot of complexity to it.”
Dr. Grenier said that processes such as flows, flooding, and delivery of sediment are important because they are what underlie the system and make it work. “It is those big physical processes on the land surface that create and maintain ecosystems and habitats,” she said, presenting a map showing the different kinds of flooding that happened in the historical Delta. The dark-purple blue in the north and south is basin flooding, several feet deep. These were basically massively productive floodplains; they were there for several months of the year, they occurred at different times in the north and south, and they fed fish, they fed bears, they fed birds, everything that could come and take advantage of it.”
“In the middle, that medium blue was all the tidal flooding,” she continued. “That was flooding almost every day, and so that was a place where there were productive wetlands year around. And then around the periphery, the light blue, were seasonally flooded intermittent wetlands; wet meadows, flooding off and on in a complicated pattern. You’ll notice that really dark blue showing channels – there’s not much of it. There wasn’t that much perennial water all the time in the Delta, and it was mostly moving. There weren’t a lot of lakes.”
The historical Delta was a really complex pattern with different kinds of flooding in different places and at different times of the year, she said. “That was the refrigerator of California; it made food and so all the wildlife that could get here would come here to eat, and when they did, they had different options. If it was a hot year, or a dry year or a cool year or it was April or it was September, there was somewhere to go and there would always be food and cover in the Delta.”
The figure on the right is what the inundation in the Delta looks like now. “There’s more of that very dark blue perennial lake-like water, so those are kind of novel places that our species are adapted to,” Dr. Grenier said. “There’s none of that deep basin flooding essentially; there’s almost no tidal flooding. We know there are a couple marshes – about 1 to 2% of what there used to be. There’s a little bit of that light blue sort of short-term seasonal flooding in the Yolo Bypass in the north, and a little bit in the Cosumnes.”
The floodplains of the Yolo Bypass and the Cosumnes River are two examples of success, she said. “Even though they somewhat pale in comparison to the historical function that used to be there, where we’ve made these floodplains, they are working,” she said. “Even though we’ve radically transformed the system, when we transform small pieces of it back, we see a lot of response. We know that fish that grow on a floodplain become very fat; they call them ‘floodplain fatties,’; our channel fish tend to be relatively small, and so I decided to call them river runts.”
She presented a map showing loss of tidal marsh. “That’s 98% loss of tidal marsh, about 99% loss if you include all the different kinds of marsh, so it’s no surprise that things are hard here for species that evolved to live in a totally different place than what we have now.”
Dr. Grenier pointed out that there are some big differences between the channels in the historical Delta versus the channels in the modern Delta. “You still see a lot of channels in the Delta, but they are not the same as what was there historically,” she said. “The channels used to be dendritic networks; they are a lot like the blood system in your body, so there are all these big channels like arteries that went into little channels like capillaries, and these fed the marsh and took away waste products, just like the capillaries do in your body.”
She then presented a map showing where the channels are now. “Almost all the capillaries are gone,” she said. “By taking out the wetlands, we’ve starved the landscape of that exchange of materials and energy and biota that made the system work. In addition, we’ve added a lot of cross channel cuts, and those have allowed the water to move faster and in different directions. If you can imagine if someone did this to your circulatory story, you wouldn’t be feeling very well either. So I hope these analogies help us to understand in a really basic way the transformation that’s occurred.”
As the team was producing the report, A Delta Transformed, they also considered how to think scientifically about resilience of the landscape. “We have climate change, we have pressure on water supply, and we have a growing human population, so we went to the entire world literature and said, what are the things that we can do to make landscapes resilient? We were lucky enough to produce this report which is now becoming a peer reviewed manuscript with some of the experts on resilient science from around the world. So this is really a coalescing of some pretty esoteric ecology literature, and the idea was to make it operational for people who were actually doing restoration.”
Out of that, they developed principles about to do on the ground to make the whole landscape work better in the face of perturbations and long-term changes such as sea level rise, she said. “There are principles like think about the setting, restore your fundamental physical processes, make sure you have the appropriate levels of connectivity, and shoot for diversity and complexity,” she said. “You also need redundancy; you need to hedge your bets if you lose a population or a patch. Make sure you are operating at the right scale; it’s often a huge challenge for us in restoration to do things big enough and long-term enough. And then remember that people are critical, both for making decisions and in the Delta, people live here, and there are many ecosystem services this landscape has to continue to provide.”
She then presented a basic conceptual model for how they are thinking about landscape resilience. “There are physical processes like flooding and flows and sediment and supply; those create and maintain a landscape, and the interaction of those processes with the landscape determines what you get in terms of ecological functions. These are things like supporting native wildlife and having a robust food web; they can include other ecosystem services like water supply and water quality. This is basically how our ecosystems work.”
The historical ecosystem was intact and everything used to work, and then we decided to make some changes, she said. “So we interrupted a lot of the physical processes of flooding and flows and sediment delivery; we took away a lot of the elements of the landscape of the natural system, and fragmented, and we added some new elements, and now we’re not getting out all of those historic ecological functions which is what we’re trying to restore.”
In order to address this, their approach is to put back some of the physical processes strategically. “It’s not a return to historical conditions,” she said. “It’s a scientific approach to thinking at the landscape scale, what do we need where. Then we need to restore some landscape elements. We need bigger habitat patches; they need to be connected – all those principles from the landscape resilience framework. If you do that, you’re going to get back ecological function. It’s not going to be like historical function, but you can get back all the things you need to maintain the species or functions you are interested in.”
Dr. Grenier then gave some examples from the upcoming report. “This one is how do you support marsh wildlife. We give you this conceptual map; we’re very carefully not saying, ‘do this on this parcel,’ but we are saying, ‘make these kinds of habitats and processes come back in these kinds and parts of the Delta; here’s kind of the configuration and the scale and the size of what you should be thinking about doing, here’s what should be next to other things.’”
“We know if you’re going to design a project, you need a smaller scale idea of what to do,” she said. “Let’s say you’re interested in returning marsh wildlife to the Delta, how would you actually do that in a real place. We have these conceptual maps of different strategies that you would bring together in an integrated way to restore that wet marsh wildlife in one place. These are all based on returning those physical processes; they are things like reestablish tidal processes at the right elevations, or reestablish fluvial processes at the fluvial-tidal interface. They are technical ideas; we try to be very clear about how you would piece it together, wildlife friendly agriculture, subsidence reversal, and other kinds of strategies. We have maps like this for each of our functions.”
“We have a lot of detail about those strategies so that project designers and managers can really get into all of the data we looked at to think about what they want to do where. For example, this is the strategy of restoring tidal processes at intertidal elevations, so all the colors of green are about where the appropriate elevations are to restore tidal marsh, looking both at what’s intertidal now and what will be intertidal with up to 2 meters of sea level rise. This is all looking forward for long time scales, and you can see that we call out on the map different parts of the Delta and try to say, here’s a place with a lot of public land and it has good elevations, so this is a good place to be thinking about doing this kind of thing. This is repeated for nine different strategies.”
People who design projects want numbers, such as how big should be it be, how far apart, and what shape should it be. “As scientists we can’t tell you how many fish you want or how many tidal marsh birds you want, that’s a societal choice; but we can tell you if you make things a certain size, what are you likely to get, and so that’s what we try to do in this section with the targets. The recommendation here is marshes should be as large as possible if you want to get back marsh wildlife, but how big is big? So we look at, if you make a 2 hectare marsh, you might get a black rail, a cute little black marsh bird. If you have 100 hectare marsh, you might get a really good dense population of black rails, so now you are starting to see more function coming out of that patch. If you have a 500 [hectare] marsh, then it’s big enough to restore those tidal processes that create those dendritic networks that are like arteries that we talked about, so there you are starting to get a systems approach. If you make a marsh that big, you can set up a system that is going to be self-sustaining and work on its own.”
“Now is that restoring like historical? No,because the historical average patch time was nine times bigger; the largest marsh patch size historically was 110,000 hectares. So we’re not talking about restoring to historical. We’re trying to give guidelines to get that function back.”
“So in conclusion, I just want to remind us that here we are in this beautiful place that has incredible ecosystem services and values because it was a wetland and wetlands give us so much of that,” said Dr. Grenier. “We’ve been making good use of it for different things for people and trying to conserve it for wildlife as well. There is a future option: if we think big, we’re willing to work on large time scales and think about the full system and not just one species at a time, where we can integrate the functions we want back from this landscape in a working landscape that gives us water, that gives us agriculture, and that gives us a special place for the people who live here to still feel like they are living in the Delta.”
DR. BROOK JACOBS
The Delta Conservation Framework is an initiative started by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, began Dr. Brook Jacobs. “A little more a year ago, when the pivot occurred from the BDCP to Water Fix and Eco Restore, the Department of Fish and Wildlife committed to developing a plan to pick up what was left off the table from conservation measures 2-22,” she said. “We committed to do this on a very tight time frame with completion in very early 2017, and we committed to producing a very concise, high level document – approximately 50 pages.”
In January, DFW hired Dr. Christina Sloop as the lead staff on the Delta Conservation Framework. “Right away, Christina dove into the very complex world of existing and pre-existing conservation plans in the Delta,” she said. “We started off very early having very good close coordination with other state and local entities with a vested interest in the Delta. We have a planning team with representatives from the Delta Stewardship Council, the Delta Science Program, Delta Conservancy, DWR, the Natural Resources Agency and Eco Restore, as well as local entities and local counties.”
“I think what makes this framework novel and so exciting is that we have the ability to pull on the great scientific work that SFEI but also from the beginning, we have this focus on really soliciting and incorporating public feedback on our ideas as we develop the document. We’ve developed a very aggressive stakeholder outreach schedule.”
DR. CHRISTINA SLOOP
Dr. Christina Sloop then gave an update on the progress made in the development of the Delta Conservation Framework, which is envisioned to provide a long-term framework for restoration in the Delta.
“Eco Restore has been taking off right after the pivot away from BDCP and has made strides in actually implementing very much needed Delta restoration work,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is take off from that, with the guidance of these other sources of information, and develop a long-term plan. Initially we said 25 years, but then our stakeholder outreach basically told us that maybe that’s not quite enough – maybe we need to do it a little longer because of the importance of thinking ahead and thinking what changes with regard to climate change, for example, will do to the Delta. It’s always prudent to think ahead and be as prepared as we can.”
They have had a very aggressive schedule for stakeholder outreach. They worked first with the planning partners, and then they initiated stakeholder workshops. There are a total of four workshops scheduled; two have been completed so far. Dr. Sloop said that she would share some of the early outcomes of the discussion, but keep in mind this is still in draft form.
“The vision that we and the stakeholders have pulled together for the future is as follows: ‘A mosaic of towns, agricultural landscapes, managed wetlands, and resilient ecosystems where people prosper, and healthy fish, wildlife, and plant communities thrive,’” she said. “It’s a combination of not just the ecosystems on one side and the people on the other; we’re trying to bring it all together.”
The reason they are developing the framework is to provide the Delta community with a shared vision and overarching goals and strategies for implementation for the conservation of the Delta, she said. “It is providing a forum of collaborative engagement and we hope to get broad buy-in from that. And as we move forward into the implementation stage, stakeholder involvement and feedback has been such that we think that maybe a forum like this should be ongoing.”
The Delta Conservation Framework is the long term extension of California Eco Restore, and it provides an opportunity to look at the potential solutions for many of the recognized challenges facing the Delta, she said. “It is a high-level framework, so in a way, it’s the Water Action Plan for Delta conservation,” she said. “What we’re envisioning is to come up with high level goals and strategies that can be implemented in the context of regional conservation strategies that are either already being implemented, such as the Suisun Marsh Plan for example, and can be informed by those strategies into the future. The great work that’s going on in the Yolo Bypass, we can help with further focus on that in the long-term, and there are several new regional efforts that are being pulled together at the moment in the northern Delta as well as in the Cache Slough complex. We would also like to draw a direct link to available state funding, such as Prop 1 through the Delta Conservancy as well as the Department of Fish and Wildlife.”
“Then of course, the reason we’re here today is that this will also serve as the basis for the amendment of the ecosystem elements of the Delta Plan, which is why we are really working closely with Delta Stewardship Council staff,” she said.
The central premise of the framework is that the conservation of Delta ecosystems will benefit both people and the environment, which is the key difference from prior efforts, Dr. Sloop said. “We’re focusing on building community, promoting ecological function, basing it on the SFEI work and other plans, and providing multiple benefits, not just looking on one side or the other. Focusing on people and the place. The Delta is a very unique and wonderful place, and increasing the efficiency of some of our processes and costs associated with this work.”
There is a limited amount of money, so we need to be smart about how we’re going to spend that, she said. “Funding is one of the big challenges that we hear, and especially long-term funding, so we really want to highlight the need for that into the future.”
Dr. Sloop said that Delta conservation means not just restoration, but also implementing strategies and related actions for the integration of the stakeholder community in the Delta, as well as protecting certain places, if they are not protected. “Certainly the focus is mainly on state owned lands or available conservation lands, but if there are willing landowners that would like to engage, we welcome that,” she said. “We also want to enhance areas and certainly restore and use adaptive management in the context of the Delta ecosystems and their ecological functions to benefit both human and natural communities.”
Dr. Sloop then presented a graphic of the planning context, pointing out that the Delta Conservation Framework is in the middle. “We’re basing it on prior plans and the input from stakeholders that we’re receiving,” she said. “It is taking off directly from California Eco Restore, and we are really working very closely with the information that is provided in these reports that SFEI has been producing for the Department and of course for the Delta community. We would like to see the Delta Conservation Framework outcomes include a Delta Plan amendment for the ecosystem restoration piece, as well as tie it directly to the state funding, and then for it to inform the regional conservation strategies, because that seems to be a great opportunity for this overarching high level framework to actually get implemented. … We have a lot of varied perspectives that we’re wrapping together into this plan.”
The second workshop focused on the topics of conservation. “One is restoring and enhancing and protecting functional Delta ecosystems,” she said. “The second one is an important piece, and that is bringing people into the resilience framework and integrating the Delta community in this context of conservation.”
The basic ideas for overarching goals are to reestablish resilient ecosystems in the Delta and the underlying processes which result in interconnected mosaics of aquatic, transitional, and terrestrial habitat types, which includes working lands or agriculture, Dr. Sloop said. There is also climate adaptation to be considered and how things are going to evolve and change over the next 30 years or so; we would like to have native dominant communities if possible, and life history support for resident and migratory wildlife, including birds, she said.
“With regard to Delta community integration, we really want to provide a way for Delta stakeholder communication and collaboration that is of the same level, so we can get as much buy-in as we can,” she said. “We want to try our best to integrate conservation with agricultural sustainability, and wildlife-friendly farming is one way to achieve that. We also want to do what we can to integrate the conservation with the flood protection goals. There are so many levees in the Delta and we need to think about what we can do there. And low impact outdoor recreation which can provide benefits for the Delta community through tourism, so and the economic benefits associated with that.”
Public education is also important, Dr. Sloop said. “We need to take the scare factor out of conservation and show people that it can actually benefit them in the end; it’s not about us coming to take your land away or we’re doing something that’s going to annoy you, so I think there’s an opportunity there.”
Reliable local water has also come up in conversations, so we need to think about local water supply and integrated water management in that context, she said.
The idea is to focus on multiple benefits in the conservation endeavors as much as possible. “We look at this slide, and see these three circles, and where they overlap is where we want to end up in developing our strategies that we then propose as overarching strategies for the Delta,” she said. “I mentioned the regional conservation strategies; we hope that they can then take off from those and build more locally focused actions to implement them.”
They have already had two stakeholder workshops; there are two more scheduled, one in October and the last one in November. “We will look at adaptive management, as well as sort of think about some of the opportunity areas. We want to get a better sense of what can we do where, and then reiterate that in the November meeting with folks and say, we think that these are good places, and what’s already been done, who are the players, how can we move forward. And include that as well as positive examples of the progresses that we have already made into the framework report.”
There will be a 30-day public review of the document in early 2017, she said. “This is a very fast process which hopefully is a good thing because then we can move on to the regional strategies and other work.”
Chair Randy Fiorini began the discussion period by saying that he was expecting to hear more about stressors and stressor controls as it relates to the orphan conservation measures. “Dr. Sloop, you mentioned that one of the goals is to have native dominant species, but it’s not always possible. Currently it is not possible because we have clams competing in the food web, we have predator fish eating the species that we’re trying to save, we have pyrethroids and ammonium in the water, and we have invasive aquatic weeds. When will you get to addressing, controlling or attempting to control those kinds of things as part of the recommendations as for Delta Plan amendments?”
“More specific focus areas are nested within the overarching strategies, so when you’re saying we would like to reduce the negative effect of invasive species in the Delta, then we would think about at the more local level, which ones are the stressors there,” replied Dr. Sloop. “All this work has been done. It is at our fingertips.”
“The framework isn’t going to be 1000 pages long; it’s only hopefully 50 to maybe 70,” continued Dr. Sloop. “A lot of what the framework will be doing is pointing to the knowledge base we already have acquired, and then work through overarching strategies, so these are the things we really need to do, whether or not this makes sense over in the south Delta is something that you in the south Delta need to figure out, or we need to talk to the entities that are actually involved in implementing any type of actions, so it is a nested approach that we’re doing. We could make another 1000 page document, but I don’t think that’s where we are headed at this moment.”
“Our need is for a high level broad planning document, to set the stage for the more regional strategies where the locals and the people working in the individual regions will pull from that and decide what the important issues are there, and how they envision with the broad strategies that we identify, implementing that in their area,” added Dr. Jacobs.
Councilmember Susan Tatayon asked about the use of the term ‘integration’ on Slide 9. “Does that mean that you’re also going to bring in, for example, upstream actions that would impede implementation of the suggested actions in the framework?”
“Yes, in our conversations with the stakeholders, we have gotten very clear feedback that we can’t think of the Delta in isolation,” said Dr. Sloop. “So yes, upstream issues with regard to the various strategies that we’re suggesting will be part of the discussion and have been mentioned. That’s our approach. It’s hard. I’m an ecologist and I am a very high-level landscape thinker, and I really appreciate how everything is always connected, and so we really can’t forget that. Whether or not, to what extent we can actually provide specifics will be challenging. We do have to get together in Workshop 3 and think about what is our main planning region, but still have that caveat that there are other plans that have been thinking about these other things; inputs but also outputs into the Bay, so we are definitely including that.”
“How is Eco Restore doing and how will this report and document look compared to the progress on Eco Restore?,” asked Councilmember Patrick Johnston.
“Eco Restore right now is separate but this is intended to be the long-term continuation of Eco Restore,” said Dr. Sloop. “Eco Restore is a set three year time frame. It’s moving forward very quickly and very aggressively with the projects included there. We have been working with the Resources Agency all along. They have been involved with the planning of the framework, looking ahead to this being the long-term continuation, looking to that need to pick up what was left on the table when the pivot happened away from the BDCP.”
“Have you looked at the projects in Eco Restore against the template you’re developing here?” asked Councilmember Johnston.
“In workshop three, we ask that question where,” said Dr. Jacobs. “What’s the planning area that we’re thinking about, and what are the regional areas, and so one of the maps we’ll be showing will include public lands because the framework is targeting public lands; also all of the Eco Restore projects, so they are part of that context for what is being done currently in the Delta, and where we’re going to be looking in the future.”
Councilmember Ken Weinberg asked Dr. Grenier about the example of black rails and marshes. “I have heard a lot of conflicting views on the certainty of taking these types of actions and the connections to species recovery. Maybe with marshes and black rail, it’s more accepted that you’ve got this formulaic relationship but when we talk about something like smelt and doing restoration work to protect smelt against predators, it seems to be that we think it will work, but we’re not sure, so it gets to, what is the state of the science on that?”
“I think there’s a great certainty that at the level we’re approaching this sort of broad holistic document, that we’ll get great lift in these ecological functions,” replied Dr. Grenier. “We would get marsh wildlife back, we’d get riparian wildlife back, we’d get a better food web – I don’t have any doubt about that based on sort of global science and restoration. It’s not a species-specific plan. I feel quite sure we’d get the marsh species back. Birds are easier to study; they are out in the daytime, you can catch them. Fish are harder, they are underwater, we know less about them.”
“I think one of the biggest challenges with species like the smelt is, imagine you took my house and turned it into a train station, and then you studied me,” continued Dr. Grenier. “’She’s not doing very well, she can’t find enough to eat, she can’t find anywhere to rest, so maybe we’ll put a bench over here and try to add some food over there, and maybe get rid of these non-native people walking through her train station. But that’s not enough. What you need to do is build me a little apartment so that I have a place to live in the train station.”
“I think that gets back to invasive species, too,” continued Dr. Grenier. “We can’t expect wetland species to live in lakes, which is kind of what we’re doing to them, so if we build more wetlands, we can’t get rid of the lakes that we have, but if we build more native type habitats, then I think we don’t really know what smelt will do. We haven’t been able to study them in the place that they were adapted to. I think that’s why it’s so hard for the smelt biology to be really clear, because we’re studying a species in a place it doesn’t belong, so in some ways at that species-specific level, trying to fix the landscape the processes that build and maintain the landscape, will be experimental in the sense that then we’ll have to see.”
“To get back to your other invasive species question and the food web, so the clams are eating a lot of phytoplankton and zooplankton and it’s causing problems for native fish,” she said. “One of our side projects that’s come out of this work is thinking about the food web and the complexity of it. When you’ve lost 99% of your wetlands, that’s a huge amount of food, so we don’t really know how that food could have supported smelt if it were here, so we’re going to build a few wetlands, see if that does start to support the fish. There are ways of competing with what the non-native species are doing by creating native ecosystems in places (in that train station) for our native species to go live, but we’ll have to monitor them and we’ll have to learn from it.”
“My hunch is that based on basic biology, if you make a place that a species is adapted to, it’s going to do better than if it’s living in a totally different ecosystem, so I can guarantee that we would get ecosystem and ecological service lift across the board, but that species-specific stuff I think would help also, but we’re going to have to focus more attention on it. That’s different than saying marshes are going to save smelt.”
The third workshop for the Delta Conservation Framework will be held on Thursday, October 20th, from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at the Jean Harvie Community Center, 14273 River Road, Walnut Grove.