Research

Natural Community Conservation Planning

Local Assistance Grant Program


FY2016-17

Alternative Grassland Grazing Monitoring Methods Assessment

The Habitat Agency, ICF International, LD Ford Rangeland Conservation Science, and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) received a LAG to evaluate the accuracy of a remote residual dry matter monitoring tool, RDMapper. The new tool could reduce the need for field measurements and better inform managers about grassland management in the Plan Area as well as similar conservation areas throughout California.

Results & Conclusions
The predictive capability of TNC’s RDMapper can enable agencies to improve grasslands management by focusing their limited monitoring resources on those properties at risk of being below the minimum standard for RDM compliance. RDMapper could in fact be game-changing for state and federal lands-management agencies that currently struggle to manage tens or hundreds of thousands of acres of grasslands. Based on our experience applying RDMapper, the study offers the following conclusions.
Potential advantages of using RDMapper include:

  • Proactive grazing management
  • Collaborative management
  • Cost savings
  • Prioritized on-the-ground monitoring

Potential issues with RDMapper include the requirement for:

  • RDM data categorized by management unit, collected and stored consistently, and available for at least the previous 5 years
  • Consistent grazing regimes
  • Clearly defined grazing objectives, including quantitative RDM standards

Recommended improvements to RDMapper:

  • TNC should continue to test with a diverse set of large landholders to identify potential issues with the tool's application to grazing management and RDM monitoring
  • To encourage broad usage, TNC should consider developing user guides, training videos, and/or a set-up service that provides potential users direct initial assistance with mapping and results interpretation

See full report here.

FY2016-17 

Sycamore Alluvial Woodland Habitat Mapping and Regeneration Study

The San Francisco Estuary Institute and H.T. Harvey & Associates received a LAG to assess the biotic and abiotic factors that influence sycamore stand health. The sycamore alluvial woodland habitat mapping and regeneration study provides data relevant to the selection of sycamore alluvial woodland stands that represent the best acquisition, restoration, and enhancement opportunities within the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Plan Reserve System.

Results


DISTRIBUTION • In general, the team expected to find a positive relationship between size class and distance
to the primary channel. This is what was found at Pacheco - young trees were most concentrated close to
the channel and in the inner floodplain and primary channel geomorphic zones, and larger, older trees were
found at relative higher densities further from the channel.  At Upper Coyote Creek, this pattern was not observed. This was perhaps due to historic migration of the channel over time. However, the distribution of large trees at Upper Coyote may reflect a historical path of an older channel along the northern edge of the floodplain.

HEALTH • In general, the team expected to find healthier trees in the more dynamic, more flood prone, less hydrologically managed, and more “natural” system at Upper Coyote Creek. More frequent and intense flood events would be expected to promote conditions more conducive to sycamore growth - availability of cobble sediment, removal of anthracnose-infected litter, and thinning of competitor species. This was not definitively supported by all the metrics examined.

REGENERATION • Regeneration at Pacheco Creek followed a predictable pattern of decreased newer growth with greater distance from the channel. Though it was expected that the natural systems  support more regeneration at Upper Coyote Creek, this result was not supported, as Upper Coyote Creek experienced very little recruitment.

 
See full report here.

FY2015-16


Modeling Climate Change Effects on Pond Hydroperiods in the Coyote Valley

The Guadalupe-Coyote Resource Conservation District, Balance Hydrologics, the Habitat Agency, and Santa Clara County Parks were awarded a LAG to understand the characteristics of existing aquatic features and their habitat suitability for covered species under current and future climate scenarios. This will inform the Habitat Plan aquatic conservation on how such features are enhanced and the location and type of aquatic feature that should be preserved, created, or restored. The project will update and add to existing GIS data for ponds within the Plan Area.

Evaluating threats posed by exotic Phytophthora species to endangered Coyote ceanothus and selected natural communities in the Santa Clara NCCP area

The Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency, Santa Clara Valley Water District, and Phytosphere Research were awarded a LAG to evaluate the threats posed by Phytophthora (a water-borne mold that results in plant mortality) to the endangered Coyote ceanothus and selected natural communities in the Plan Area. The objectives of the study are to (1) detect Phytophthora species that are either currently impacting, or have the potential to seriously degrade, populations of covered plants such as Coyote ceanothus and natural communities in the Plan Area; (2) Utilize the collected information to develop management strategies to minimize introductions of Phytophthora pathogens into new areas and to limit or contain impacts in affected areas.

Winter Burrowing Owl Monitoring

The San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory, Lynne Trulio, Philip G. Higgins, and Debra Chromczak were awarded a LAG to extend and expand on the FY2013-14 LAG Winter Burrowing Owl Banding Project. This study will expand the amount of area surveyed in the winter and undertake standardized burrowing owl survey methods to provide a general estimate of the number and distribution of wintering birds.  This work is designed to fill gaps in the general knowledge of burrowing owl behavior, leading to the development of techniques that will allow managers to predict long-term habitat protection and management needs for species in the Plan Area.

FY2013-14

Identifying Habitat Corridors for Wildlife to Travel Through Coyote Valley
between the Santa Cruz Mountains and Diablo Range

The Open Space Authority, Pathways for Wildlife, and UC Berkeley received a LAG to identify pathways that wildlife species are using to move through Coyote Valley between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range. Because of existing barriers and development, existing and potential pathways are not obvious, creating difficulties in focusing management and ranking potential land acquisitions.

Coyote Valley Linkage Assessment Study Final Report identified (1) important pathways and habitats that wildlife are using to travel across the valley floor through field camera surveys and occupancy modeling; and (2) determine if genetic flow or isolation is occurring. The study identified several pathways that various animals are using to travel across the valley floor through a variety of habitats and road infrastructure. One of the main pathways identified is along Fisher Creek, in which animals are traveling from the west Santa Cruz Mountain foothills at the Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve, across the valley floor along the creek bed, and over to Coyote Creek County Park on the east side of the Valley through the Monterey Road Fisher Creek culvert.

The researchers collected and processed twenty-six ground squirrel genetic samples and the data were input into the occupancy model developed by Morgan Grey at UC Berkeley as part of her dissertation work. The results of the genetic work and occupancy model will be published once the analysis is complete.

Winter Burrowing Owl Banding Project

The Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, Philip Higgins, Lynne Trulio, and Debra Chromczak received a LAG grant to survey banded burrowing owls. This study investigated whether burrowing owls banded during the wintering, non-breeding season (September-January) were remaining within Santa Clara County at their original banding locations, moving to other locations in the north of Santa Clara County where most owls breed or moving outside of the area when the breeding season starts.

The Winter Burrowing Owl Banding Project Final Report results cover two winter seasons during which 24 and 23 owls, were banded, respectively. Eleven owls were found at foothill sites and 65-70 at valley-floor breeding sites in the first winter. In the second winter, the numbers were 17 at foothill sites and 66 at valley-floor breeding sites. None of the owls in foothill sites were banded during a previous breeding season in the study area. The breeding season surveys located 55-57 owls, all at valley-floor breeding sites, except for three owls at two low-elevation foothill sites. These three owls disappeared by June; the surveys of foothill sites indicated no owls stayed into the breeding season to nest. Also, no owls banded at foothill sites in the winter moved to valley-floor breeding sites in the next breeding season.

UC Santa Cruz Puma Project (SCCP)

Chris Wilmers and the UC Santa Cruz Foundation received a LAG to gain a deeper understanding of how habitat fragmentation in the Permit Area influences puma (Puma concolor, also known as mountain lion or cougar) ecology. The objective of this project was to document possible connectivity for mountain lions between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range by way of the Coyote Valley and to determine the specific path that dispersing mountain lions would utilize. These data will show how permeable to movement Coyote Valley currently is and inform follow-up activities aimed at protecting and enhancing those areas as envisioned in the Habitat Plan conservation strategy.

UC Santa Cruz Puma Project Study Objective and Outcomes did not document any mountain lions entering Coyote Valley or crossing the highway 101 corridor before or during the monitoring period. The researchers speculate that absence of appropriate vegetative cover habitat is likely a key contributor to the lack of use of the Coyote Valley. The dominant habitat cover types are human development/ag lands and open grassland, types that are largely avoided by mountain lions.