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Permitting Restoration: Helping Agricultural Land Stewards Succeed in Meeting California Regulatory Requirements for Environmental Restoration Projects

Image representing Permitting Restoration: Helping Agricultural Land Stewards Succeed in Meeting California Regulatory Requirements for Environmental Restoration Projects

The members of the California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment (CRAE) reached consensus on a set of recommendations to facilitate the permitting processes for on-farm environmental restoration projects, described in Permitting Restoration: Helping Agricultural Land Stewards Succeed in Meeting California Regulatory Requirements for Environmental Restoration Projects (2010). If adopted, these proposals would increase opportunities to provide enhanced wildlife habitat, air and water quality, soil health, and other public benefits. The product of deep deliberation, this white paper represents a meaningful collaboration of diverse stakeholders on this challenging issue.

Ag Innovations compiled four case studies to illustrate the regulatory hurdles and effective collaborations addressed in the paper (see descriptions below).

Project: California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment

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“In the world of food and farming systems, the problems are always complex and the players and interests are diverse. Making change in such an environment requires patience and skilled facilitation to bring groups together for collaborative action. Ag Innovations has been doing just that for many years and they do it very effectively.”
Karen Ross, California Department of Food and Agriculture

Solutions

Environmental regulations in California serve to minimize the environmental impacts of land modification activities, including those with intended environmental benefits. Yet the current constellation of permit requirements and their implementation have had the unintended consequence of hindering environmental restoration projects that offer benefits to private landowners, the public, and environmental health.

Permitting Restoration: Helping Agricultural Land Stewards Succeed in Meeting California Regulatory Requirements for Environmental Restoration Projects draws on the broad experience of several agricultural associations, technical assistance agencies, conservation organizations, and regulatory partners to assess the difficulties involved in permitting voluntary environmental restoration projects. The paper identifies challenges and actions that CRAE members believe are important elements in minimizing conflicts and better coordinating environmental permits, including:

 

  • Timing and cost
  • Intra- and inter- agency coordination
  • Staffing and resources
  • Environmental enhancement
  • Consistency
  • Permitting processes
  • New task forces and training programs
  • High-level reviews

     

    To illustrate the challenges faced by proponents of environmental restoration projects, as well as efforts that have been successful in minimizing these barriers, Ag Innovations compiled a short series of case studies. The case studies include examples of effective collaboration among agencies and other stakeholders, highlighting positive models that have minimized one or more of the barriers addressed in this paper.

  1. Apanolio Creek Fish Passage Project, Central Coast of California describes an effort to restore steelhead trout passage in Apanolio Creek by removing three stream barriers, while maintaining agricultural water supply and access to both sides of the creek. This case study outlines the barriers encountered during the permitting process, including reduced project scope, reduced conservation value, and substantial costs for the participating regulatory agencies.
  2. The goal of Frenchmans Creek Fish Passage Improvement Project, Central Coast of California was to restore steelhead passage by replacing a culvert with a clear-span bridge and boulder weir step pools. The project also aimed to restore a more natural hydrologic regime, protect existing species and habitat, and improve in-stream and riparian habitat. The case study describes the high cost of such restoration efforts due to the plethora of agencies and permits involved, as well as a lack of inter- and intra-agency coordination.
  3. The Santa Cruz Partners in Restoration Permit Coordination Program was the first of many county-wide Partners in Restoration (PIR) initiatives. Despite the obstacles encountered, the Santa Cruz Countywide Permit Coordination Program resulted in habitat benefits, as well as a substantial reduction in permitting fees and time to achieve project goals.
  4. Enhanced Stock Pond Restoration through the Alameda County Permit Coordination Program highlights the Alameda County Conservation Partnership's success in streamlining the permitting process for ranchers, which has resulted in increased preservation of at-risk species habitat.

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