5 Takeaways on California 30x30 Report: Land and Freshwater

The 30x30 road map is getting clearer—and that's exciting! But there are still questions left unanswered.

wild river canyon

The Trinity River in the Six Rivers National Forest, California

Credit: Kate Poole, NRDC

The state of California has released the final version of its Pathways to 30x30 report. Here are five things to know about the terrestrial conservation elements of this landmark effort: 

1. Freshwater Conservation 

The Pathways document is explicit about the critical need to expand protection of California’s rivers, streams, wetlands, and other freshwater resources, stating that: 

“Lands encompass inland waters such as rivers and wetlands and the integral role they play in connecting and nourishing terrestrial, coastal, and freshwater ecosystems. Coastal waters include most major bays and estuaries, which connect the sea to the land. All of our ecosystems, including freshwater systems, are vital for biodiversity, the enhancement of drought resilience, and the maintenance of cultural and recreational activities across California.” 

Not only have we lost the functionality of many of these vital freshwater ecosystems – having altered over 90% of California’s wetlands alone – but we have lost the connectivity that they provide for moving fish, wildlife, and nutrients across ecosystems and between high quality habitats. The Pathways document accurately notes the importance of restoring this connectivity if we are going to allow biodiversity to thrive in a climate-changed future, calling for 30x30 to: 

  • “Ensure conservation and restoration of river corridors that are essential to fish and wildlife movement and that serve as climate refugia for native species”; 
  • “Implement watershed-scale restoration projects that connect land and coastal water habitats; fish and wildlife corridors to connect already conserved landscapes and waterways”; and  
  • “Utilize natural flood protection tools and remove unnecessary or obsolete barriers from waterways to restore connectivity and fish passage of impaired waterways, meadows, riparian areas, floodplains and wetlands.” 

These are laudable goals, and we are grateful to see them acknowledged in the Pathways document. But the actions of the Natural Resources Agency and the Newsom Administration are more important to realizing 30x30 than words and goals. So far, the Newsom Administration has largely failed to take the actions necessary to restore imperiled rivers and freshwater species, instead abdicating its regulatory authority and adherence to science in favor of ineffective voluntary actions. If we are going to save California’s declining freshwater ecosystems, state decisionmakers must step up and protect these important resources for the benefit of the many instead of abuse by a few.

2. Tribes

The final Pathways document takes important steps to begin restoring lands and authority to Tribes that have had much stolen from them in the last 150 years. Importantly, the document acknowledges the need to provide resources and capacity to Tribes to enable meaningful participation in 30x30 planning and implementation efforts. The document also recognizes that programs will need to be developed to “provide stable, long-term support for tribal establishment and administration of tribally protected landscapes and other tribally managed or co-managed areas.” Finally, the document appropriately notes that different considerations may apply to tribally-owned lands than other lands, such as addressing “trade-offs between recreational access and tribal rights to access lands for cultural, subsistence, or ceremonial purposes.” 

However, the document lacks specificity about what it actually means to protect and restore resources that are important and meaningful for Tribes to maintain their culture and way of life. Among other things, healthy salmon runs are a core resource for many Tribes, runs which have been decimated by dams and poor water management in California. Restoring these runs is going to take more than some land acquisition efforts and funding – it is going to take a new approach to water management that holds stewardship, rather than exploitation, at its core.    

3. Connectivity

The final Pathways report has an increased emphasis on connectivity, but there is still room to build out this foundational part of California’s 30x30 effort. Connectivity is mentioned in sections of the report related to land acquisition and climate resilience, but it is worthy of a stand-alone section in forthcoming implementation plans.  

In order to meet 30x30 biodiversity goals, species must be able to move across landscapes to continue to ensure genetic biodiversity. As NRDC’s Lisa Suatoni recently told Scientific American “Biodiversity is also genetic diversity, and genetic diversity is the fuel of adaptation,” which is key to surviving and thriving in a changing climate.

The critical importance of connectivity was highlighted on Earth Day when California broke ground on the world’s largest ever wildlife crossing north of Los Angeles. Wildlife corridors and crossings can include both human-made projects like the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, as well as natural wildlife corridors. Riparian corridors, for example, traverse rivers, streams, lakes, lagoons or other natural bodies of water and can facilitate wildlife movement. A critical part of 30x30 must be protecting natural linkages between protected areas so that wildlife have a chance to move safely between protected areas and core habitats.

4. Implementation Details 

The Pathways report rightly acknowledges the scope of this landmark undertaking, noting that “Achieving the 30x30 conservation targets in less than a decade requires that a focused set of initiatives, programs, and projects happen concurrently across California in coming years.” The report identifies key agency responsibilities in its Implementation section with the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) and the Department of Fish and Wildlife holding many of the responsibilities for terrestrial habitats.  Given the very significant responsibilities assigned to CNRA there is an explicit need to address additional capacity for this already very busy agency.  

The outline of agency roles is a helpful step, but further detail is needed to understand how each element of the Implementation Strategy will help deliver results on the ground that elevate biodiversity, climate and equity. Comments on the draft report from many stakeholders including NRDC called for “Clear and Measurable Goals, Targets, and Metrics” in the final document. This level of detail is not included, which is not terribly surprising given the scope of the work at hand, but stakeholders need to know where, when, and how this level of detail will be developed and shared. In addition to convening an open and inclusive process through the 30x30 Partnership, the state also needs a strike team of agencies charged with keeping projects and programs on track and finding solutions to challenges or barriers to progress. 

Stakeholders including NRDC also recommended that the state identify kick off projects to build momentum for 30x30. Appendix B: NEAR-TERM ACTIONS TO JUMPSTART 30X30 identifies categories of early projects, but the examples are not place-specific. Grounding these categories of projects in place-based efforts across the state will help create the forward movement needed to launch this ambitious effort in real, tangible ways. 

5. Funding

The report outlines a high-level funding approach with an important emphasis on leveraging federal dollars for conservation in California. The report notes that “Significant opportunities exist due to full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Act, significant investments in wildfire resilience, and the recently-passed federal infrastructure bill.” Additional detail about how the state will leverage these funding sources will be needed in short order.  

The California state budget itself is a powerful tool to move 30x30 forward. The report details that the state’s current budget includes “$768 million set aside for nature-based solutions, $600 million for coastal resilience projects, $645 million in habitat restoration, and $105 million for wildlife corridors and fish passage projects. These funds have great potential to advance 30x30.” The final 2022-23 budget must include specific, increased investments in all these areas. In addition, the funding portfolio should identify which specific funding programs present opportunities to maximize climate and equity co-benefits. 

NRDC and our partners recently submitted a letter to the state legislature noting that while some of the conservation under 30x30 will include increasing conservation management on already public lands, it is still going to take considerable investment by the state to support acquisition, restoration and ongoing management of lands and waters, including capacity-building to allow for staffing at state agencies, tribes, land trusts and community-based organizations. The 30x30 funding portfolio must include the right types of funds to support all these needs.  

To learn more about the marine conservation piece of the final 30x30 report our colleague Chris Clark shares his thoughts here

The 30x30 road map is getting clearer and that's exciting, but there are still questions left unanswered. The final Pathways Report is an essential step forward in meeting California’s 30x30 goal – now it’s time for the state and for stakeholders from San Diego to Shasta to work together to develop on the ground action plans to get us to our goal. There is no time to waste.  

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