Working Collaboratively for Successful Restoration

Introduction to SERCAL 2014, Spring 2014 Ecesis, Volume 24, Issue 1

Dos Rios Ranch and the adjacent San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge stand as a landscape-scale model of strategic and multi-benefit flood-control projects. By repurposing the floodprone lands behind the levees to act as high quality floodplain habitat for threatened and endangered wildlife AND transient floodwater storage basins during massive flood years, these projects find the sweet spot between two historically competing land uses.

Dos Rios Ranch and the adjacent San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge stand as a landscape-scale model of strategic and multi-benefit flood-control projects. By repurposing the floodprone lands behind the levees to act as high quality floodplain habitat for threatened and endangered wildlife AND transient floodwater storage basins during massive flood years, these projects find the sweet spot between two historically competing land uses.

As you’ve seen from this year’s conference literature and our website, this year’s conference theme is “Working Collaboratively for Successful Restoration.” This concept is an important one to me as the majority of restoration projects that I’ve worked on over the past twenty years (at least the successful ones) have involved some level of collaboration or partnership — collaborating with civil engineers to design a flood protection project that includes riparian habitat restoration, working with landowners to control streambank erosion while enhancing aquatic habitat for steelhead and salmon, or partnering with local stakeholder groups to obtain grant funding to improve water quality, restore habitat, and provide recreation and environmental education in urbanized watersheds. Although restoration projects may be initiated by different groups for different purposes, they all require practitioners to recognize and balance multiple physical, ecological, social, and political issues, and interact with educated and motivated stakeholder groups and the general public. In addition, the economic downturn that we’ve experienced over the past 5+ years has required practitioners and implementing agencies and organizations to move beyond single purpose projects and “partner” with other stakeholders to leverage funding and work together to implement projects that not only restore habitat, but also provide flood protection, recreation, environmental education, water quality improvement, and other benefits for the local communities. 

My goal for this year’s conference is to highlight the innovative and creative ways that practitioners, local, state, and federal agencies, and stakeholder groups and organizations are working together to plan, design, and implement restoration projects in Northern California. The conference will also provide opportunities for us to discuss our successes and failures (we often learn more from our failures than our successes), share restoration techniques and strategies, and develop new approaches for working collaboratively with stakeholders to successfully plan, design, fund, and implement habitat restoration projects.

Our conference begins on Tuesday, May 13th with field trips to restored coastal dunes and wetlands at Point Reyes National Seashore, enhanced salmonid habitat in the Lagunitas Creek Watershed, restored North San Francisco Bay tidal wetlands, and enhanced urban streams in the City of Sonoma. More detailed information on these exciting opportunities is provided later in this issue. 

We formally kick-off the conference on Wednesday morning, May 14th, with the Plenary Session and a keynote address from Grant Davis, the General Manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency. Mr. Davis will talk about his experience working with multiple agencies and organizations throughout the San Francisco Bay area to improve water management and provide flood protection, while supporting broader regional benefits such as protecting and restoring the natural resources of Sonoma County and the San Francisco Bay-Delta Watershed. 
After a quick break, we’ll begin the first series of technical sessions: Coastal Wetland Restoration; Restoration of Special-Status Fish and Wildlife, and Upland Habitat Restoration and Management. 

Led by Michelle Orr, the session on Coastal Wetland Restoration, will cover the range from subtidal to upland ecotone habitats along the length of the California coast. The session will begin with discussions of efforts to support California Clapper Rail through marsh enhancements and through creation of high tide refuge islands moving up to large scale restoration of the wetland-upland ecotone. The latter half of the session will focus on research into wetland restoration being undertaken in San Francisco Bay with examples of how this has been translated into design. Our focus then moves to the ocean and to bar-built estuaries along the Central coast and to estuarine habitat restoration in Humboldt Bay.

The Restoration for Special Status Species session, led by Ross Taylor, will explore issues related to designing and implementing restoration projects for special status fish and wildlife species. The nine presenters will share information from various professional perspectives (non-profit, private consultant and agency) and on varying scales (project site-specific, watershed-level, and regional-level). Topics will include enhancing and restoring salmonid habitat on the Lower American and Sacramento Rivers, restoring habitat for Western burrowing owl, and restoring fish passage in Marin County.

Led by Chad Aakre and Andrew Rayburn, the Upland Habitat Restoration and Management session will span the breadth of California’s upland communities, from coastal scrub and prairies, interior grasslands, grazed rangelands, and southern deserts. Reflecting the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of ecological restoration projects in California, presenters will include a diverse mix of private-sector consultants, university researchers, and agency scientists. Topics will include grassland-scrub mosaics, mycorrhizal fungi, mineland restoration, exotic species invasion, ecosystem services, renewable energy, nitrogen deposition, wildlife responses to restoration, and habitat mitigation.

After completion of the first day’s technical sessions, we’ll all have a chance to unwind during the cocktail reception. The reception also provides a great opportunity to meet and connect with your fellow restoration practitioners and view the poster presentations. 

After a quick cup of coffee, our second day begins with technical sessions on: Riparian Restoration; Integrating Restoration and Other Land Uses, and Project Implementation and Monitoring – Lessons Learned.  

The Riparian Restoration session will present projects split evenly between large-scale river enhancement efforts and smaller projects. All of the work emphasizes multiple benefits and/or multiple objectives, which is in line with the current emphasis of most restoration funding sources. These projects consider the fluvial dynamics of the riverine system and the geomorphic setting that can help guide restoration success. Monitoring results and evaluations of project effectiveness and limitations will also be presented. They include both floodplain and inset channel restoration. Geographically, the papers presented will describe projects on the San Joaquin, Sacramento, Napa, Yuba, and Trinity Rivers, along with work on Redwood Creek (Marin County), and the hydraulic geometry for creek restoration in a number of streams in Marin and Sonoma County.

The session on Integrating Restoration and Other Land Uses, led by Carol Presley, will explore the interconnectedness of ecological restoration with a variety of other benefits. This not only includes how restoration can occur in conjunction with other land uses but also with how ecological restoration overlaps with societal values, such as agricultural preservation, flood management, water supply sources and community education. The session will include presentations on topics such as Integrating Habitat restoration with Stormwater Management and Flood Control, Grazing to Benefit California Red-Legged Frogs and Tiger Salamanders, and Integrated, Multi–Objective Landscape Scale Conservation.

As we all know, when we’re immersed in the day-to-day details of restoration projects, it can be easy to forget that habitat restoration is a relatively new science and that we are still riding the back side of the learning curve wave. The speakers for the Project Implementation and Monitoring: Lessons Learned session will share their project-specific, hands-on experience in restoration planning, design, implementation, and monitoring and the lessons learned during the process. Topics will include channel rehabilitation and riparian restoration on the Trinity River, seasonal wetland creation in diked agricultural wetlands in the northern San Francisco Bay region, channel margin enhancement on the Sacramento and Lower American Rivers, wetland restoration design in Truckee, the development of stream restoration agreements for the Mono Basin, and the role and opportunity for community involvement for restoration projects. 

We’ll conclude the conference with trips to restoration projects implemented on two local streams, Dry Creek and Tolay Creek, and a visit to the Pepperwood Preserve, a 3,120 acre nature preserve located northeast of the City of Santa Rosa. Visitor access to the Preserve is limited, so this will be a one of a kind opportunity to glimpse the management and restoration activities that are being implemented at this site. 

As you can see we have a conference packed with thought-provoking technical sessions and exciting field trips that will showcase the state of habitat restoration in Northern California and provide insight into how practitioners are collaborating with local agencies and organizations to implement successful projects. I hope to see you there! — by Kevin MacKay, ICF International & SERCAL President and 2014 Conference Chair