The first of its kind Santa Clara Regional Conservation Investment Strategy (RCIS) was approved by California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) last month. The Santa Clara RCIS covers the entirety of Santa Clara County and identifies conservation goals, priorities, and actions to protect endangered species such as the San Joaquin kit fox, Swainson’s hawk, and Central California coastal steelhead. The RCIS also identifies planned infrastructure works in the County, including major transportation, water, transmission, and renewable energy projects. Taken together, the RCIS provides valuable information for infrastructure agencies to consider how strategic conservation investments could be made in advance of future project impacts to fulfill mitigation requirements, expedite project timelines, and generate truly effective conservation outcomes at a regional scale. The Santa Clara RCIS is sponsored by the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, Valley Transportation Authority, Conservation Strategy Group, and others. For a copy of the Santa Clara RCIS, see CDFW’s website here.
Regional Conservation Investment Strategies
RCISs are voluntary, non-regulatory, and non-binding conservation plans designed to incentivize and guide investments in resource conservation. The RCIS program went into effect on January 1, 2017, and is administered by CDFW. Further background regarding RCISs can be found here. There are a number of draft RCISs currently being reviewed by CDFW which are well-progressed and on-track to being approved in early 2020:
Yolo RCIS covers all of Yolo County and includes a variety of natural communities such as cultivated lands, chamise and mixed chaparral, and wetlands. This RCIS has received public and CDFW review comments and is being prepared for final CDFW review and approval.
East Bay RCIS covers all of Contra Costa and Alameda counties and includes a variety of bayland and inland habitats. This RCIS has received public and CDFW review comments and is being prepared for final CDFW review and approval.
Mid-Sacramento Valley RCIS covers portions of Colusa and Sutter counties and includes farmlands and rangelands. This RCIS has received public and CDFW review comments and is being prepared for final CDFW review and approval.
Antelope Valley RCIS covers lands within Los Angeles County and includes a variety of rural open space. A draft version of this RCIS has been deemed ‘complete’ by CDFW. The draft RCIS will now undergo a 60-day public review period and detailed CDFW review.
The above are the most progressed draft RCISs in the state. Additional RCISs currently being drafted include Monterey, San Bernardino, and Santa Cruz RCISs.
Mitigation Credit Agreements
The Santa Clara County RCIS approval comes on the heels of the release of the draft Mitigation Credit Agreement Guidelines (Guidelines) in August of this year. Mitigation Credit Agreements (MCAs) are a component of the program set up by AB 2087. MCAs are the crediting mechanism whereby habitat improvements or similar conservation actions can be quantified and used to fulfill compensatory mitigation requirements established under state and federal environmental laws. With the draft Guidelines developed, CDFW will work collaboratively with stakeholders as part of an MCA pilot period to develop initial MCAs. The overarching objectives of the pilot period are to complete three MCAs before the summer of 2021, as well as the first MCA by the summer of 2020. Key goals of the pilot period include developing a programmatic approach for the creation of mitigation credits, which poses a key incentive for infrastructure agencies, outreach and a high degree of coordination with related federal and state agencies, as well as trialing innovative approaches towards credit creation, including for short-term habitat enhancement and multi-benefit projects. The learnings from the pilot period will inform the process CDFW chooses to adopt in relation to MCA development.