Guest opinion: To restore California's ecosystems, we must adopt smarter permitting – | Almanac Online |

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Uploaded: Sun, Aug 29, 2021, 8:54 am 1
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Healthy land grows next to salt ponds at Bedwell Bayfront Park in Menlo Park on Dec. 17, 2019. Photo by Magali Gauthier.
California’s ecosystems underpin the state’s economy: They nurture and protect the state’s water supply, shorelines, agriculture, fisheries and wildlife. But many of these ecosystems are in dire health, and climate change is now accelerating the loss of biodiversity already underway. Ecosystem degradation is having ripple effects across the state. Severe problems with water supply, dwindling populations of native wildlife, and the critical need to better manage and store carbon require urgent and large-scale action.
There is a solution: The state enjoys a vibrant, growing restoration movement that has seen some tremendous successes. For instance, when a coalition of state, federal and private agencies acquired more than 15,000 acres of commercial salt ponds in the southern end of San Francisco Bay in 2003, the land was largely barren. Some 18 years later, the salt marshes of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project are home to a constellation of wildlife, including at least two endangered species — the salt marsh harvest mouse and Ridgway’s Rail. These emblematic creatures, found only in San Francisco Bay, returned to the marshes quickly after restoration, and the restored areas are now sequestering carbon, protecting the shoreline and providing access to nature and recreation in the heart of the Bay Area.
Other actions are showing promise, too. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “30 by 30” executive order aims to conserve 30% of California’s land and waters by 2030, and the measure enjoys broad bipartisan support. Similarly, the Cutting the Green Tape initiative aims to improve coordination and partnerships to facilitate ecological restoration. However, too many restoration efforts still face costly, arduous permitting processes that delay projects — or scuttle them altogether. They’re subject to, ironically, the very regulations that were intended to slow or prevent environmental degradation — but are now hindering work to expand restoration.
Obtaining permits for a restoration project typically involves many agencies — local, regional, state and federal — each with their own language, requirements, timeline and procedures.
So how can we ramp up ecosystem restoration to stop and even reverse the loss of crucial ecosystem functions? The state must first address the costly, time-consuming permitting process and embrace smarter permitting for restoration.
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What is smarter permitting?
In our new report, we researched restoration case studies and innovative permitting approaches across California. We found that successful smarter permitting efforts typically achieve better outcomes in a few key ways: by shortening the timelines, lowering costs, increasing the extent of restoration and promoting better ecological outcomes.
We also observed some important patterns. Successful programs used at least one, and sometimes all, of the following approaches. First, they coordinated across similar projects with programmatic permitting. Second, they coordinated within and among regulatory agencies to promote a culture of teamwork and improve the working relationships with permittees. Third, they advanced permitting to restore key ecosystem functions — which meant planning over a larger geographic area than most individual restoration projects.
Who can enact smarter permitting?
Smarter permitting does demand a major culture change at many agencies. It will take strong leadership to build a culture of trust that allows agency staff to take chances and try new things. But our study shows that a few changes can yield major benefits. This includes unblocking challenging planning processes by coordinating restoration at an ecosystem scale, so that objectives can be traded off in different locations. And bringing all parties together early in the process, with a common foundation of scientific knowledge, helps foster collaborative problem-solving and builds trust from the start.
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Restoration proponents have a huge role to play: Nearly every successful smarter permitting innovation we studied started out as a grassroots endeavor. Nonprofit organizations, government agencies and water users all wield more power than they know.
It truly is a time to get all hands on deck. The sooner these permitting changes are enacted, the sooner we can help California’s struggling ecosystems — and the people and wildlife they support — grapple with a climate that’s changing faster than we’d like.
Letitia Grenier, program director at the San Francisco Estuary Institute, was the 2020 PPIC CalTrout Ecosystem Fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, [email protected] Jeffrey Mount is a senior fellow at PPIC’s Water Policy Center, [email protected] This piece was first published by CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture that works with media partners throughout the state, including The Almanac.
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by / Contributor
Uploaded: Sun, Aug 29, 2021, 8:54 am

California’s ecosystems underpin the state’s economy: They nurture and protect the state’s water supply, shorelines, agriculture, fisheries and wildlife. But many of these ecosystems are in dire health, and climate change is now accelerating the loss of biodiversity already underway. Ecosystem degradation is having ripple effects across the state. Severe problems with water supply, dwindling populations of native wildlife, and the critical need to better manage and store carbon require urgent and large-scale action.

There is a solution: The state enjoys a vibrant, growing restoration movement that has seen some tremendous successes. For instance, when a coalition of state, federal and private agencies acquired more than 15,000 acres of commercial salt ponds in the southern end of San Francisco Bay in 2003, the land was largely barren. Some 18 years later, the salt marshes of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project are home to a constellation of wildlife, including at least two endangered species — the salt marsh harvest mouse and Ridgway’s Rail. These emblematic creatures, found only in San Francisco Bay, returned to the marshes quickly after restoration, and the restored areas are now sequestering carbon, protecting the shoreline and providing access to nature and recreation in the heart of the Bay Area.

Other actions are showing promise, too. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “30 by 30” executive order aims to conserve 30% of California’s land and waters by 2030, and the measure enjoys broad bipartisan support. Similarly, the Cutting the Green Tape initiative aims to improve coordination and partnerships to facilitate ecological restoration. However, too many restoration efforts still face costly, arduous permitting processes that delay projects — or scuttle them altogether. They’re subject to, ironically, the very regulations that were intended to slow or prevent environmental degradation — but are now hindering work to expand restoration.

Obtaining permits for a restoration project typically involves many agencies — local, regional, state and federal — each with their own language, requirements, timeline and procedures.

So how can we ramp up ecosystem restoration to stop and even reverse the loss of crucial ecosystem functions? The state must first address the costly, time-consuming permitting process and embrace smarter permitting for restoration.

What is smarter permitting?

In our new report, we researched restoration case studies and innovative permitting approaches across California. We found that successful smarter permitting efforts typically achieve better outcomes in a few key ways: by shortening the timelines, lowering costs, increasing the extent of restoration and promoting better ecological outcomes.

We also observed some important patterns. Successful programs used at least one, and sometimes all, of the following approaches. First, they coordinated across similar projects with programmatic permitting. Second, they coordinated within and among regulatory agencies to promote a culture of teamwork and improve the working relationships with permittees. Third, they advanced permitting to restore key ecosystem functions — which meant planning over a larger geographic area than most individual restoration projects.

Who can enact smarter permitting?

Smarter permitting does demand a major culture change at many agencies. It will take strong leadership to build a culture of trust that allows agency staff to take chances and try new things. But our study shows that a few changes can yield major benefits. This includes unblocking challenging planning processes by coordinating restoration at an ecosystem scale, so that objectives can be traded off in different locations. And bringing all parties together early in the process, with a common foundation of scientific knowledge, helps foster collaborative problem-solving and builds trust from the start.

Restoration proponents have a huge role to play: Nearly every successful smarter permitting innovation we studied started out as a grassroots endeavor. Nonprofit organizations, government agencies and water users all wield more power than they know.

It truly is a time to get all hands on deck. The sooner these permitting changes are enacted, the sooner we can help California’s struggling ecosystems — and the people and wildlife they support — grapple with a climate that’s changing faster than we’d like.

Letitia Grenier, program director at the San Francisco Estuary Institute, was the 2020 PPIC CalTrout Ecosystem Fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, [email protected] Jeffrey Mount is a senior fellow at PPIC’s Water Policy Center, [email protected] This piece was first published by CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture that works with media partners throughout the state, including The Almanac.

California’s ecosystems underpin the state’s economy: They nurture and protect the state’s water supply, shorelines, agriculture, fisheries and wildlife. But many of these ecosystems are in dire health, and climate change is now accelerating the loss of biodiversity already underway. Ecosystem degradation is having ripple effects across the state. Severe problems with water supply, dwindling populations of native wildlife, and the critical need to better manage and store carbon require urgent and large-scale action.
There is a solution: The state enjoys a vibrant, growing restoration movement that has seen some tremendous successes. For instance, when a coalition of state, federal and private agencies acquired more than 15,000 acres of commercial salt ponds in the southern end of San Francisco Bay in 2003, the land was largely barren. Some 18 years later, the salt marshes of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project are home to a constellation of wildlife, including at least two endangered species — the salt marsh harvest mouse and Ridgway’s Rail. These emblematic creatures, found only in San Francisco Bay, returned to the marshes quickly after restoration, and the restored areas are now sequestering carbon, protecting the shoreline and providing access to nature and recreation in the heart of the Bay Area.
Other actions are showing promise, too. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “30 by 30” executive order aims to conserve 30% of California’s land and waters by 2030, and the measure enjoys broad bipartisan support. Similarly, the Cutting the Green Tape initiative aims to improve coordination and partnerships to facilitate ecological restoration. However, too many restoration efforts still face costly, arduous permitting processes that delay projects — or scuttle them altogether. They’re subject to, ironically, the very regulations that were intended to slow or prevent environmental degradation — but are now hindering work to expand restoration.
Obtaining permits for a restoration project typically involves many agencies — local, regional, state and federal — each with their own language, requirements, timeline and procedures.
So how can we ramp up ecosystem restoration to stop and even reverse the loss of crucial ecosystem functions? The state must first address the costly, time-consuming permitting process and embrace smarter permitting for restoration.
What is smarter permitting?
In our new report, we researched restoration case studies and innovative permitting approaches across California. We found that successful smarter permitting efforts typically achieve better outcomes in a few key ways: by shortening the timelines, lowering costs, increasing the extent of restoration and promoting better ecological outcomes.
We also observed some important patterns. Successful programs used at least one, and sometimes all, of the following approaches. First, they coordinated across similar projects with programmatic permitting. Second, they coordinated within and among regulatory agencies to promote a culture of teamwork and improve the working relationships with permittees. Third, they advanced permitting to restore key ecosystem functions — which meant planning over a larger geographic area than most individual restoration projects.
Who can enact smarter permitting?
Smarter permitting does demand a major culture change at many agencies. It will take strong leadership to build a culture of trust that allows agency staff to take chances and try new things. But our study shows that a few changes can yield major benefits. This includes unblocking challenging planning processes by coordinating restoration at an ecosystem scale, so that objectives can be traded off in different locations. And bringing all parties together early in the process, with a common foundation of scientific knowledge, helps foster collaborative problem-solving and builds trust from the start.
Restoration proponents have a huge role to play: Nearly every successful smarter permitting innovation we studied started out as a grassroots endeavor. Nonprofit organizations, government agencies and water users all wield more power than they know.
It truly is a time to get all hands on deck. The sooner these permitting changes are enacted, the sooner we can help California’s struggling ecosystems — and the people and wildlife they support — grapple with a climate that’s changing faster than we’d like.
Letitia Grenier, program director at the San Francisco Estuary Institute, was the 2020 PPIC CalTrout Ecosystem Fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, [email protected] Jeffrey Mount is a senior fellow at PPIC’s Water Policy Center, [email protected] This piece was first published by CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture that works with media partners throughout the state, including The Almanac.
The Almanac publishes guest opinions, editorials and letters to the editor online and in print. Submit signed op-eds of no more than 750 words or letters to the editor of up to 350 words to [email protected] The weekly print deadline is Tuesday at noon.
What an out of touch article!. We don’t need more regulations in California, if anything we need less regulations. I could care less about the ecosystem and we have thousands of people sleeping on the streets because environmentalists care more about wildlife, zoning law and permits than human-beings. Thankfully people with your mentality with your elitist mentality DI know what’s better for humanity type of mentality are becoming less and less that’s why it’s time for California’s vote for someone on the opposites side of the political spectrum. We need to be regulates California and send environmentalists home so we can help human beings. You see the life of a human being is worth more than the life of a coyote or a mountain lion so if we have to build in their habitats even if it means their extinction that’s better than leaving people to sleep on the streets daily or to pile them in shelters with no privacy etc. anyway, I’m not gonna have this argument though, your article is elitist, out of touch and if it says anything, it shows how empty you are as a person you have nothing going on in your life and it’s usually people like that who feel the need to regulate everything around them and make it even harder for the average person.
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