At their August 28, 2014 meeting Council members endorsed an issue paper entitled Restoring Habitat with Science and Society in Mind. The paper will be used by the Council to focus its own work and encourage other agencies to focus their work to spark progress toward implementing habitat restoration portions of the Delta Plan over the next two years.
According to Jessica Davenport, the Council’s program manager for ecosystem restoration and land use, the paper was prompted by a July 2013 scientific review of habitat restoration by the Delta Independent Science Board (Delta ISB). A January 2014 review draft elicited comments from stakeholders and agencies, and Davenport says the main change is that the paper now acknowledges the progress that has been made by various groups working on habitat restoration.
“Everyone agrees that we need the best available science when conducting habitat restoration exercises,” said Davenport. “But, we also need to make sure that we don’t have paralysis by analysis, which is why we require adaptive management practices.”
She also acknowledged the need to have realistic expectations about habitat restoration, saying, “We know it’s not feasible to restore the Delta to the way it was in the past, which is why we need to understand what the system is now and what the potential is to enhance it to benefit the species and habitats that we care about.”
Along with emphasizing a “landscape-scale perspective” when conducting habitat restoration, the paper also gives priority to the need for tracking the performance of habitat restoration as well as the importance of stakeholder involvement and interagency coordination.
“We want to help project proponents develop their individual restoration projects within this landscape context,” said Dr. Lauren Hastings, the Council’s adaptive management science advisor. “That way they’re not just focused on their own project, but are considering the bigger picture of the Delta as a whole.”
“I think some of the things that upset the folks in the Delta are that we as a Council stay very conceptual,” said Council Member Larry Ruhstaller. “They want to trust that something is being done – and I think what they’re expecting the Delta Stewardship Council to do is to stop talking and get actual things done.”
Council Chair Randy Fiorini said he felt that was the purpose of the paper. “The Delta Plan is focusing on six high priority restoration areas,” he said. “This paper drives pilot projects in each of those restoration areas.”
According to Davenport, “We’re not the ones on the ground determining the engineering plans for the habitat restoration projects. Instead, a big part of our role is science support, as well as supporting the ‘Delta as a Place’ approach when determining how their projects can work well for the communities in terms of recreational opportunities and the like.”
“We’re trying to develop the tools that practitioners will use to design their projects,” said Hastings. “This process allows for the transparency of what’s being planned regarding habitat restoration, as well as providing venues for public involvement.”
Davenport also noted that stakeholder comments included concerns about the potential for a seemingly endless review cycle. “Some proponents told us that as their projects go through different agency reviews they have to be continually revised, which can take a long time,” she said. “So there’s been some discussion on how to bring all the important regulatory agencies and scientists together at the early stages of the project design to help accelerate the process.
“The Council’s role includes coordinating activities, identifying issues, getting people to talk to each other, and agreeing on how we can collectively move forward and overcome barriers that slow down projects,” Davenport said.
To view a list of the ten actions – six for Council staff and four for other agencies and organizations – that the Council’s staff proposes as areas of focus for the next two years, see page 3 of the staff report. The online video of the August 28, 2014 Council meeting can be found here. The Council’s endorsement of the Habitat Restoration Issue Paper is item 7 on the agenda.