Climate Change Projects
The Coastal Conservancy has supported dozens of projects designed to address the causes and effects of climate change. These projects are located in all parts of the coast and around San Francisco Bay, and many promote the development of strategies and techniques that can be applied elsewhere. The Conservancy is also involved in several regional collaborations that bring together the public and private sectors to prepare for the effects of a changing climate.
Greenhouse Gas Reduction Projects
Climate change has been driven by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere. The pace of climate change could be slowed if GHG emissions are reduced and removed from the atmosphere through capture and storage. The Conservancy is working on both fronts.
GHG Emissions Reduction
The Conservancy has long supported the construction of multi-use trails that provide people with alternatives to driving cars. Conservancy-supported studies are examining how bicycle pathways in urban areas can provide commuters and residents with non-motorized options for transportation. Those pathways offer the added benefit of opportunities for healthy outdoor recreation.
GHG Capture and Storage
Through photosynthesis, plants remove carbon dioxide (CO2), a potent GHG, from the atmosphere and transform it into carbon that builds their physical tissues, such as stems, leaves, and roots. Large amounts of CO2 can be captured and stored—or sequestered—from the atmosphere through proper management of plant communities. The Conservancy is involved with such work in three areas:
California’s forests provide an important component of the State’s natural system of carbon storage. California coastal redwoods in particular store more carbon than any other forest type in the world, due to their size, longevity, and high growth rates. In addition to the carbon in live trees, lumber and other forest products can sequester carbon for long periods of time, until the wood is burned or decays.
The Conservancy has supported the protection of more than 120,000 acres of coastal forests that sequester significant amounts of carbon. Some, such as the Big River State Park in Mendocino County, and the Mill Creek portion of Del Norte Redwoods State Park, have been preserved as park land. Here, the trees will grow over time, sequestering carbon while also providing habitat for a host of species and parkland for outdoor recreation. Others, such as Sonoma County’s Preservation Ranch (now known as the Buckeye Forest) and Mendocino County’s Garcia River Forest and Big River Salmon Creek Forest, were previously harvested forests acquired with the intention of protecting watersheds, maintaining the properties as working, productive timberland, and generating revenue through participation in the carbon market. The management goal on these properties is to restore the forests over time using careful, light-touch forestry that allows the forests to recover to a more natural structure, while simultaneously increasing the forests’ ability to store greater amounts of carbon.
Tidal wetlands are carbon-dense ecosystems that sequester large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere continuously over thousands of years. These wetlands, however, are being lost globally at dramatic rates. When wetlands are converted to serve other land-uses by removing vegetation or draining/dredging the land, the stored carbon is released as carbon dioxide and other GHGs. The conversion of wetlands to other uses not only results in the loss of their ability to sequester carbon but also in the release of previously stored carbon to the atmosphere.
The Conservancy has been a leader in protecting and restoring tidal wetlands along California’s coast and in San Francisco Bay. Major Conservancy-led projects include wetlands restorations in South San Diego Bay, at Ormond Beach in Ventura County, in the South San Francisco Bay Salt Ponds—the largest wetlands restoration project on the West Coast—and in Humboldt Bay. The Conservancy has helped to protect and restore, or is engaged in restoring, almost 40,000 acres of tidal wetlands.
California’s rangelands offer an opportunity to sequester large amounts of carbon while increasing their productivity and drought resilience. By applying compost as a rangeland soil amendment, ranchers can improve soil quality and water holding capacity. These improvements increase photosynthetic rates of rangeland plants, removing additional CO2 from the atmosphere. At the same time, compost application reduces carbon emissions from storing manure and hauling organics to a landfill.
The Conservancy has funded two projects aimed at scaling up rangeland carbon sequestration from the experimental to the landscape scale. The initial project, conducted with the Marin Resource Conservation District, supported demonstration of “carbon farming” techniques on three ranches plus workshops to spread their use. A second project is involving additional RCDs to apply and demonstrate the techniques on 15 demonstration farms in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. The project will integrate the techniques into the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s GHG model, COMET Farm, making the techniques eligible for conservation practice funds through the Farm Bill.
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Sea Level Rise Projects
Sea levels are rising, putting California’s coastal communities and natural lands at risk. The Conservancy is helping many communities assess and counter threats of sea level rise to public infrastructure and the natural environment.
- The cities of Imperial Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Benicia; the counties of Santa Barbara, San Mateo, Marin, and Sonoma; communities around Monterey and Humboldt bays; and San Francisco International Airport are analyzing risks from sea level rise and identifying adaptation strategies.
- The Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors is preparing an adaptive management plan for protection of the County’s iconic coastal beaches.
- The Surfers Point Shoreline Resilience Project in the City of Ventura relocated bike trails, parking lots, and other facilities away from the shoreline, restoring the beach in the process.
- The South San Francisco Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is restoring 15,000 acres of wetlands that offer flood protection for many South Bay communities including parts of Silicon Valley.
- Living shorelines are being designed and built in Newport, San Francisco, and Arcata bays, using oyster beds and other natural habitats to buffer the impacts of rising seas and increased storm events.
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Urban Communities and Parks Projects
Global warming, drought, and runoff from extreme storms threaten the well-being of millions of urban residents. Conservancy funding is supporting inner-city projects that are creating shady retreats for residents, conserving rainwater, capturing stormwater pollution, and reducing air temperatures.
- In Los Angeles County, volunteers are improving one-half mile of Dominguez Creek in Hawthorne with native trees and a new bike path, in South Los Angeles an underused alleyway is being transformed into a “green alley” that will be integrated with the life of the community, the popular Eugene A. Obregon Park in East Los Angeles is becoming a model “green park” with drought-tolerant vegetation and porous pavement to allow rainwater capture, and a two-acre parcel in the Highland Park area is being transformed into a community park with landscaping that decreases stormwater pollution and promotes groundwater infiltration.
- In the City of Los Angeles, Heal the Bay is performing a cost-benefit analysis of three Living Streets programs to guide street maintenance and utility policies: Complete Streets encourages low carbon methods of transportation, Green Infrastructure captures rainwater, and Cool Streets uses materials to reduce the absorption of solar heat.
- The Watershed Project is improving the parking lot of Booker T. Anderson, Jr. Park in Richmond to reduce stormwater pollution into Baxter Creek while adding to the park’s green space and providing for cooler surface and air temperatures.
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Water Catchment and Storage Projects
California’s drought is having a severe effect on the availability of water for use by urban and rural communities. Underground basins can store rainwater for use in both urban and rural areas and above-ground storage can enable farmers to stop diversions of stream water in the summer when it is most critical to the survival of fish and other wildlife.
- The Council for Watershed Health is analyzing the feasibility of large-scale capture of rainfall and storage in underground aquifers to augment water supplies and reduce reliance on imported water in the Los Angeles area.
- The Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County and UC Santa Cruz are studying stormwater runoff patterns and identifying potential sites to capture rainwater and store it underground.
- Sonoma County’s Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District is designing large-scale rainwater catchment and storage systems to help farmers adapt to changing rainfall patterns and water availability.
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Farm Management Projects
The Conservancy is supporting the work of farmers and ranchers to conserve water and protect the environment while adapting to the effects of climate change.
- Resource Conservation Districts in San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Alameda, Marin, and Sonoma counties are developing management techniques to help farmers and ranchers adapt to drought, extreme storms, and other effects of a changing climate while conserving water, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing the health of soils, and improving wildlife habitats.
- The Nature Conservancy is demonstrating how climate-resilient agriculture can benefit farmers and the natural environment in the Salinas Valley using strategies for cooperative management of water supplies and floodplain uses.
- The Trust for Conservation Innovation, working with the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, is establishing demonstration grassland restoration plots on grazing lands in San Mateo, Solano, and Sonoma counties to demonstrate how native grasses can be used to make rangelands more resilient to climate change while improving habitats for wildlife.
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Regional Climate Collaboratives
The effects of climate change have become readily apparent. Coordination with other sectors and jurisdictions can help individual communities and institutions assess threats and develop effective responses. The Conservancy is supporting several regional initiatives and collaborations that include a diverse group of public, private, and nonprofit organizations committed to preparing for the emerging impacts of climate change. These groups include:
- The San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative, a network of public agencies organized to share expertise and leverage resources
- The Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability, a network of local and regional governments, the business community, academia, labor, and environmental and community groups
- The Bay Area Climate and Energy Resilience Project, a collaborative of more than 100 public, private, and nonprofit organizations
- The Bay Area Ecosystem Climate Change Consortium, a group of natural resource managers, scientists, and others organized to sustain the natural environment
- The Alliance of Regional Collaboratives for Climate Adaptation, a network of regional collaboratives from across California
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