Connectivity and Planning for Fish and Wildlife

Connectivity and Planning

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) mission is to manage California’s diverse fish, wildlife, and plant resources, and the habitats upon which they depend, for their ecological values and for their use and enjoyment by the public. As development pressure grows in California and climate conditions continue to change, fish, wildlife, and natural communities may not be able to move freely to meet all their habitat needs for breeding, feeding, and shelter. CDFW is involved in both furthering the science and research on habitat connectivity and implementing various landscape level programs to combat habitat connectivity impacts.

Landscape Conservation Planning Program: Connectivity

CDFW’s Landscape Conservation Planning Program (LCPP) programs help ensure that vital habitats are large enough and connected enough to meet the needs of all species that use them. The program includes the Regional Conservation Investment Strategies (RCIS) Program, the Conservation and Mitigation Banking Program, and the Natural Community Conservation Plan (NCCP) Program all have components that promote habitat connectivity. By protecting habitats and restoring habitat connections, wildlife and other living species are provided greater opportunities for movement, migration, and changes in distribution.

Landscape planning and evaluation of regional resources includes identifying intact, high quality habitats and essential connectivity linkages. The LCPP programs create pathways for individuals and entities to establish plans for effective mitigation and valuable conservation at several landscape scales in advance of human disturbance and development. This proactive planning and coordination create unique opportunities for efficient project permitting, minimizing impacts, and identifying and establishing quality, permanent conservation across California.

To further LCCP’s work on connectivity, Senate Bill 790, “Wildlife connectivity actions: compensatory mitigation credits,” was recently passed by the California Legislator and signed by the Governor. The bill summarized the need for habitat connectivity and wildlife corridors to mitigate climate change impacts as well as reduce human impacts to species. Beginning January 1, 2022, SB 790 allows CDFW’s RCIS Program and Conservation and Mitigation Banking Program to create guidelines and issue mitigation credits for wildlife connectivity actions. These actions measurably improve aquatic or terrestrial habitat connectivity, or wildlife migration, recolonization, and breeding opportunities inhibited by built infrastructure or habitat fragmentation. Guidelines for the selling, use, and transfer of credits for connectivity projects are currently under development.

The tabs below detail each programs unique approach to promoting connectivity and enabling valuable landscape conservation.

Regional Conservation Investment Strategies Program

The RCIS Program allows for development of region-wide assessments to identify high-quality conservation areas and conservation strategies to guide conservation and advanced mitigation. The assessments (RCAs) and strategies (RCISs) are developed using the best available scientific information, including existing information about wildlife connectivity. Habitat connectivity is required to be discussed in both RCAs and RCISs. Further, the Program Guidelines encourage RCIS proponents to include at least one wide-ranging species as an RCIS focal species. The RCISs then outlines goals, objectives, actions, and priorities that address the area-specific wildlife connectivity needs, which can be implemented as conservation projects or as advanced mitigation through the Mitigation Credit Agreement (MCA) process.

MCAs are intended to create mitigation credits by implementing the conservation or habitat enhancement actions identified in the RCIS. Like conservation and mitigation banks, an approved MCA will provide permanent or long-term habitat protection and preserve, create, or restore habitat, which will increase ecologically functional and provide connectivity opportunities. Please visit CDFW’s Regional Conservation Investment Strategies Program webpage for more information on RCA’s, RCIS’s and MCA’s.

Conservation and Mitigation Banking Program

A conservation or mitigation bank is privately, or publicly owned land managed for its natural resource values for specific species or natural communities. Banks consolidate what would have been small, fragmented permittee responsible mitigation projects into large contiguous sites that result in higher quality wildlife habitat. Review of proposed banks includes assessing the surrounding land use and buffer areas, including their connection to other conserved lands, and permanent protection and long-term management of the bank and surrounding habitat. Long-term management results in increased biological integrity of ecological systems; review of existing landscapes enables better connectivity; and permanent protection ensures habitat now and in the future. Please visit CDFW’s Conservation and Mitigation Banking Program webpage for more information.

Natural Community Conservation Plans

An NCCP identifies and provides for the regional protection of plants, animals, and their habitats, while allowing compatible and appropriate economic activity. This collaborative plan provides a permit for the take of CESA species, as well as non-listed and even Fully Protected Species. These take allowances are offset by perpetual protection of habitats on a region-wide scale with a goal of conserving the species. Generally, this commitment results in a large and interconnected reserve system that will enhance habitat connectivity for the covered species.

NCCPs prioritize areas for development as well as lands for conservation that will become the habitat reserve system. As of 2021, permitted NCCPs have a combined reserve obligation of over 1.6 million acres. This enables connectivity resilience not only within the plan area, but also to areas outside of the plan area. Please visit CDFW’s Natural Community Conservation Plan Program webpage for more information.

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