BAY DELTA SCIENCE CONFERENCE: The Delta Conservation Framework: Realizing a Vision for a Sustainable Delta by 2050

In 2016, Department of Fish and Wildlife committed to lead agencies and the Delta stakeholder community in an inclusive planning effort to advance the conservation of the Delta, Yolo Bypass and Suisun Marsh following the state’s pivot away from the Bay Delta Conservation Plan’s comprehensive habitat conservation planning efforts, instead rebranding the effort as the California Water Fix and choosing to advance the project pursuing a more traditional approach.

The result of the Department’s efforts is the Delta Conservation Framework, which was developed in partnership with the Department of Water Resources, the Delta Conservancy, the Delta Stewardship Council, and the California Natural Resources Agency.  The framework offers context and guidance for implementation of practices toward a collective long-term vision of the Delta as ‘a mosaic of towns, agricultural landscapes, managed wetlands, and resilient ecosystems where people prosper and healthy fish, wildlife, and plant communities thrive.’  Building on prior Delta planning efforts, the Framework recognizes the uncertainties related to climate change and other impending land use changes, and provides a collective vision and long-term, landscape-scale goals.

At the 2018 Bay Delta Science Conference, Dr. Christina Sloop, Science Advisor for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, gave a presentation on the Delta Conservation Framework.

The Delta Conservation Framework is non-regulatory collaborative framework for conservation in the Delta for the next 30 years.  The Framework includes a common vision for conservation for the Yolo Bypass, Suisun Marsh, and the larger Delta.  It aligns with the California Water Action Plan and it informs the ecosystem amendment process to the Delta Plan underway at the Delta Stewardship Council.

In developing the framework, a number of stakeholders were engaged through a series of workshops held in 2016 and 2017; the broad range of participants included representatives from state, federal, and regional agencies, private residents, business owners, NGOs, consulting firms, and folks from universities.

The Framework expresses a long term vision for the Delta: ‘In 2050, the Delta is composed of resilient natural and managed ecosystems, situated within a mosaic of towns and agricultural landscapes where people prosper and healthy wildlife communities thrive.’

We’re trying to really do a holistic approach with this framework,” Dr. Sloop said.  “The best way we’re going to get conservation, which we define as protection, restoration, and enhancement of Delta ecosystems, is by talking and including the community.  …  We can’t just say everything’s going to stay the same because we know things are changing.  This is why the framework is really a call to action, to work together across all sectors and interests to develop and implement resilient solutions for the future that integrate all the needs of the stakeholders that come to the table for the long-term.”

The framework has four themes with goals for each:

  • The first theme is people and place; it focuses on the history and importance of the people of the Delta. It has three goals, and each goal includes strategies to suggest ways to move forward.  The first goal is stakeholder communication and socio-economic considerations.  The second goal focuses on public education and state-national outreach campaigns to heighten the Delta in the larger context.  The third goal focuses on multi-benefit conservation solutions.
  • The second main theme is ecosystem function, and goals focus on restoration to support ecosystem function. The publication, A Delta Renewed, from the San Francisco Estuary Institute is the baseline for the strategies outlined in this part of the framework.
  • The third theme calls for Delta conservation based in science. The goals highlight the importance of using science to inform decision making as well as coordinated adaptive management.
  • The fourth theme is facilitating conservation. The goals for this theme include improving capacity on approaches for project permitting, and finding long-term funding to support conversation.

The main focus of the framework is collaboration and trying to come together, said Dr. Sloop, noting that some regional partnerships are already in place, such as in Suisun Marsh, the Yolo Bypass, Cache Slough, and the Central Delta Corridor.

The framework suggests that all of the goals could be implemented in the context of regional conservation strategies, rather than a complicated master plan that takes decades to write.  The idea is to build partnerships that work together strategies for the sub-regions of the Delta, and have conversations about what makes sense, not just now but in the long-term.

In no way are we saying you can’t implement individual projects because in some regions of the Delta, there are no partnerships yet,” said Dr. Sloop.  “But if projects are implemented, the framework has guidance steps like thinking ahead a little bit and using tools that are already in place.  The framework is supposed to be a resource for those kinds of things.”

The regional conservation strategies outlined in the framework are not the same as Regional Conservation Investment Strategies (RCIS), which is a broader DFW program that uses a science-based approach to protect and restore habitat that can contribute to species recovery, adaptation to climate change, and resiliency.  “RCISs are based on existing ecological assessments to determine needed conservation and habitat enhancement actions, and they allow for mitigation in a new and different way that goes beyond what existing conservation programs can do,” said Dr. Sloop.  “They are also done in a shorter timeframe than other current regional conservation plans take.”  (Click here to learn more about DFW’s Regional Conservation Investment Program.)

They worked with stakeholders in the workshops, reviewed existing plans and other land features to identify eight subregions of the Delta called Conservation Opportunity Regions (or CORS).  The boundaries of the subregions are not exact; they are more like general areas where partnerships could be developed.

These regional partnerships don’t have to be started by the state; anyone can do that,” said Dr. Sloop.  “Of course, we encourage that the participants should come from all stakeholder groups;  everyone should come together, including agencies.”

The Delta Conservation Framework includes overviews of some of the Conservation Opportunity Regions which outline regional setting,  planning history, previous and existing conservation partnerships, opportunities for conservation, and the potential for multi-benefit projects such as multi-benefit flood management, wildlife-friendly agriculture, and low-impact recreation, and climate change and adaptation opportunities.

These strategies as envisioned in the framework are supposed to be developed and led by these partnerships,” she said.  “They include comprehensive evaluation of various things, such as vegetation type, habitat quality, species distribution, local land use, existing infrastructure, and anything else that is relevant for that region.”

Dr. Sloop then turned to the Central Delta Conservation Corridor, describing it as a public process being led by the Delta Conservancy to collaboratively develop a conservation strategy for management and restoration of 5,000 acres of public land in the Delta.  A planning charrette was held recently that did an ecological assessment with interested stakeholders, who went through the ideas and what is and isn’t possible, taking an inclusive holistic approach, she said.

This is just the beginning,” said Dr. Sloop.  “There needs to be continued conversations, and we need to do more evaluation of options and really hone in on the fact that no action is not necessarily the best thing in moving forward.”

Dr. Sloop concluded by noting that the framework is being completed now and will be released in its final form in November.

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