Ecological restoration of non-riparian,
open upland habitats---deserts, alkali sinks or native perennial
grasslands of the West, especially in California---can be extremely
difficult for at least two reasons:
1.) Weeds---the native grasslands have been 99.9% overwhelmed by exotic grasses and forbs from Europe, and the exotics have put weed seedbanks in the soil as dense as 40 per square inch (62,000/square meter).
2.) Annual Rainfall---there is less than 20 inches (50 cm) of precipitation that only falls within six winter and spring months of the year, and the summer months are completely dry. Plus the last few years, many parts of the Arid West have experienced an exceptional drought.
Projects like the San Bruno Mtn. Habitat Conservation Plan, in San Mateo Co. has spent $3-$4 million and twenty years, still not able to restore a single acre of native Calif. ecosystem. Why?
CHECKLIST FOR SUCCESS--FOUR SIMPLE PLANS
--PLAN ONE: How do you
Select the Species for the Project?
It appears to be a simple task--select what species should be on your project site--but decade after decade I've seen the lack of any technologies to chose the proper species as the cause for more failure than any one single item.
The problem occurs for at least two reasons: There is a natural reaction to use whatever is readily available from seed companies and native plant nurseries and try and make them work on your project. The second error is that no systematic technologies are in common use to determine what originally grew on site, if the natural ecosystems are not present today.
The downside of using "off the shelf" material from nurseries or seed companies, is that for native seeds in California, only 2% of the State's species are available commercially in bulk quantities, for example. The downside of not having any process to determine what grew on site, is that California contains at least 5,000 native species, and in any single County in the State, there are 1,000-1,800 species of native plants. You must have some technology to sort out from those thousands of species, exactly which ones were on your site originally, and then what percentage of each species formed the mosaic of the original ecosystem.
When you have figured out what species and then what percentage of each you need for your site, then you are faced with the second biggest hurtle that creates a large number of failures in California---where can I go for the proper genetic material?
--PLAN TWO: Are Sufficient
Quantities of Local Native Seeds Available?
California with its 5,000 species of native plants, and countless genetic variation within each of those species, called "ecotypes". A sufficient quantity of seed is necessary of both the local species required for the project, as well as the proper local ecotype. Take a look at six genetic variations of one native grass species (Bromus carinatus) occurring within only a 25 mile radius of San Bruno Mountain at http://www.ecoseeds.com/common.html
Local seed collection of the native plant ecotypes in sufficient quantities for a project can be conducted in areas where there are still large native stands, but most of California below 3,000 feet (1,000 meters) has had its native understory vegetation 99.99% removed by grazing, farming, housing developments, etc.
If we had started the process of ecological restoration in California 100 years ago, at that time, there were still relict stands of genetic material scattered throughout the State. However, in the 21st Century, the native non-riparian understory plants (native perennial grasses and herbaceous plants--not the trees and shrubs) are nearly wiped out.
That means in order to have a successful
project, a lot of effort must be expended on: (1.) Determining
the proper species (2.) Knowing what the right percentages originally
occurred of each species, and (3.) Where are you going to get
the right genetic material today? Expect to budget a large amount
to cover and resolve these three issues.
The few pounds of seed that could be hand-collected for a project should be immediately turned over to a grower to grow under contract bulk quantities. One pound of hand-harvested native grass seed, if put into commercial cultivation, could yield 100 pounds of commercially-grown seed within 12 months.
The rule of thumb in California is to have 50-100 pounds of native seeds available for each acre that will be restored, so the exotic seedbank already in place can be overwhelmed. Calculate for 50 pounds per acre for pure-live-seed and 100 pounds per acre if it is 50-70% pure seed. Also be sure that the native seeds are weed, noxious weed, and "other crop" free: you want to get a "zero standard" for each of those impurities, which could interfere with your planting.
--PLAN THREE: Have you
Completed Successful Test Plots?
Decade after decade, large-scale plantings in California fail because successful test plots were not conducted prior to the large-scale planting. What usually happens, is the large-scale planting IS the test plot, with only one sowing rate or a few different sowing methods. However, our firm recommends the use of dozens of "Tiny Test Plots" , called TTPs.
We recommend trying dozens of TTPs, each of them the size of a few square yards (1-2 square meters), where a broad range of sowing rates, fertilizer rates, mulches, different sowing methods, soil. prep. methods, etc. are tested. Within a very short time it will be obvious which TTPs have successful results, and then those results can then be used to plant on a larger scale.
We recommend at least two years of test plots, with the anticipation that there will be 90-98% FAILURES in the first series of TTPs, which is to be expected. When the second year of TTPs are planted, the purpose is to make the 2-10% of successes to work better, and achieve close to 100%.
Think of the project like house-painting, where a small section of wall is successfully painted , and the paint doesn't peel off within a few months; and you do these tests before the whole house is painted. Trying to work within California's San Joaquin valley, for example, is like painting over about 200-300 million viable weed seeds that are buried in each acre, with 6-8 million native plant seedlings.
Even in drought years, the rule of thumb is "If the exotics like Red brome and Filaree can grow, by using successful technologies and techniques, a high percentage of native plant cover can be put back in place". For those drought years, or difficult-to-revegetate areas, that's where licensed technologies that have built-in standards are necessary, in order to have consistent successes.
--PLAN FOUR: Do you have
any Licensed Technologies and Standards.
Unlicensed technologies have been used for thirty years or more, for attempts to restore native California grassland: unlicensed technologies are those available for free, and are in the public domain. However, those technologies have not consistently worked, and they do not have any support system behind them when they fail. Who does a person call when those free, public domain technologies don't perform?
Successful technologies must be invented that work for ecological restoration, just like any other industry, and then those successful technologies are licensed for others to use. All the computer software that we all use from Bill Gates or Adobe® are licensed technologies. Why shouldn't ecological restorationists also use licensed technologies, that come with standards and technical support?
---STANDARDS---just like when anyone buys any technologies, there is an expectation that standards are attached. Like a new computer, when it runs at 2.0 GHz, has 128 MB of RAM and a 30 GB Hard Drive, etc.
Ecological restoration absolutely needs performance standards---otherwise mitigation or restoration plans may only remain dreams---wishes that cannot be fulfilled. Like what happened to the San Bruno Mountain Habitat Conservation Plan, that promised 20 years ago that California native grassland critical habitat could be fully restored for Federally Listed Endangered Species of butterflies, in exchange for housing and commercial developments that were built on top of the butterflies' prime habitat.
We are pleased to introduce the world's first ecological restoration standard:
---THE "95-90-ZERO" (TM)
STANDARD for GRASSLAND RESTORATION
"95-90-zero" is the standard for California native grasslands restoration. That means at least 95% local native cover is established within 90 days, with zero future maintenance. California only gets 180 days of rain each year in the winter and early spring. Without 95% native cover within the first 90 days, it is unlikely that the next 90 days will be helpful, because the exotics in the seedbank will have overwhelmed the planting by then.
Maintenance generally means failure. Trying to fix a planting with future "maintenance", which usually means "weed control", is a red flag being raised that the initial planting fumbled. Future work on the grassland should only be used to add more native species to the original planting, never for weed control.
Also, the use of "Adaptive Management" is the admission of potential failure. When a project states that it is using "adaptive management", those are code-words for "we don't have a clue on how to restore this ecosystem, and we don't have any successful technologies invented to do so."
When restoring California grasslands between 20 feet and 3,000 feet (7-1,000 meters) elevation and between 20" and 30" (50-75 cm) of rainfall, that part of California is where the European weeds grow best. The first inch (25 mm) of rain that falls in November, can germinate broadleaf weed seedlings as dense as 20 per sq. inch (31,000 per square meter) and the annual exotic grasses sprout at rates up to 40 seedlings per square inch (62,000 per square meter).
If there were no introduced weeds in California, we could all just dump sacks full of California native seeds out of the back of a pickup truck, and drive away, and probably have good success. However, all of lower-elevation California is covered with hundreds of species of exotics----each releasing tens of thousands of seeds per square meter all over the restoration site----that all those exotics can interfere with any plans to reintroduce California native grassland species.
Add to the costs per acre, when the annual rainfall drops below 20 inches (50 cm), that costs increase exponentially, and those costs should be budgeted. When the annual rainfall is below 10 inches (25 cm), specialized species and ecotypes will be required that can survive in that low range, plus heavy-duty licensed technologies that can succeed in those areas.
Since California native
grasslands species attain a substantial size within six months,
test plots can be used to quickly to measure the value and success
of restoration plans and technologies.
Craig Dremann's "Blue Book of Ecosystem Values"
for Non-riparian Ecological Restoration in the Arid West
BUDGETS - The dollars and 1/10th acre-by-1/10th acre approach for success.
Under-funded projects are never are able to accomplish very much, especially when attempting California grassland restoration---even over a 25 year time span, like the San Bruno Mountain HCP. The principle problem occurs when the project wants to skip the test-plot portion, and use the whole project as one gigantic test plot with only one or a few treatment.
In California, add in the lack of rainfall for six months of the year in the summer, and then add to that picture the 200-300 million weeds per acre, and if the money is not budgeted properly, a project will fail.
Success can be built into a project if each 1/10th acre of the project is made a separate entity, and by distributing a budget in a creative fashion, success can be more likely for the whole project. The first 1/10th acre is always the most difficult part of the process, to achieve the standard of 95-99% local native cover, and make it stick.
BLUE BOOK Non-Riparian Ecological Restoration Costs:
1.) The minimum amount to budget in 2007 dollars for restoring that first 1/10th acre of non-riparian ecosystem that occurs in an area of 20 inches or more of annual precipitation, is $200,000. The 1/10th acre is the largest "test plot" area to work on, until a high standard of restoration has been achieved, 90% native plant cover or better. The first 1/10th acre costs include labor and materials, which may also include hand-collecting local seed, plus having a portion of that hand-collected seeds commercially grown out to bulk it up.
In the future, your budget
can possibly be slashed if you find there is a native seedbank
still in the soil---see
the "Native Seedbank" section below.
2.) If the restoration area is below 20 inches of annual precipitation, add to the cost of that first 1/10th acre, $25,000 for every two inches of annual precipitation less than 20 inches. Bakersfield's six inches of annual rainfall, for example, budget $375,000 for the first 1/10th acre. Conversely, for every inch of annual precipitation above 20 annual inches the area receives, the budget could be cut.
3.) Unusual soil types: Budgets should also be increased if the area is in unusual soil types: mines or mine tailings, serpentine, decomposed granite, alkaline or saline, sand, gravel, limestone, etc. Add an additional $100,000 for the first 1/10th acre for unusual soil types, because specialized species and ecotypes will be needed for success in those sites.
4.) If the site is above 3,000 feet elevation: for every 1,500 feet above 3,000 feet, add an additional $100,000 for the first 1/10th acre, because a new set of native species will be needed.
5.) Angle of site: an area that is level is much easier to work on, than a steep roadcut that's continually sliding. Add a "slope factor" to the budget--- for every degree from level, double that figure and multiply the budget by that figure as a percentage, and add that to the budget.
6.) Topology: Surface factors like vernal pools, boulders, rock outcrops, or other unusual topology, add an additional charge, depending on the difficulty in working around those factors.
7.) Endangered Species Habitat: When working within an Endangered Species or Threatened Species habitat, because one can only delicately manipulate the environment, so to make the least amount of impact on the species existing on site, double the budget.
8.) Percentage of native cover on or directly adjacent to the site: can work in your favor, significantly reducing the ultimate cost of the project. Before you do your first test plot, a complete inventory of the area, with a list of both the exotic species and the native understory species, is necessary.
9.) Significant top-soil disturbances: Budgets need to be significantly increased if
there has been any removal of topsoil; or removal, stockpiling
and replacement of the top soil layer, like in mining operations
If the topsoil has been removed, stockpiled and replaced, increase the budget by 50%. If the topsoil has been removed and not replaced, triple the budget.
10.) Biodiversity surcharge. A surcharge needs to be added, to cover the costs of evaluating more than a single plant species, and determining how to successfully plant multiple plant species so that they function together as an intact ecosystem.
11.) Human-Introduced Toxins Surcharge:
On certain sites, human-introduced
toxins may be present: oil and other petroleum products, salt
brines, road-salt, salt build-up in agricultural soils, selenium
from agricultural drain-water, toxic materials in mine tailings
and overburden, etc., that would interfere with establishing plants.
A surcharge needs to be added, to cover the costs of evaluating and mitigating these toxins.
12.) Global Warming/Drought Surcharge:
Consistent annual precipitation
is the key to ecological restoration success, and wild variations
in maximum and minimum temperatures, and rainfall, especially
a trend towards drought, will impact on your project. Native plant
seedling survival require a minimum amount of rainfall, and since
1975 the patterns started shifed toward drought in the West; and
starting in 1995, the rainfall and temperature patterns in the
West may have permanently shifted.
If your site is within a current drought area (see map below), or being impacted by global warming, then a Surcharge needs to be added to the budget.
Beyond the costs of that first 1/10th acre of restored grassland, cut each additional 1/10th acre's cost in half. If the first 1/10th acre was $200,000 -- budget $100,000 for the second 1/10th acre, and $50,000 for the third 1/10th acre, and $25,000 for the third 1/10th acre, and so on.
When the first acre is successfully completed, the local seed materials should then be in sufficient quantity to do a larger area, and efficient techniques developed to get the per-acre price down to a reasonable cost.
You can start with a smaller area to test technologies and gradually ramp them up into larger areas. We like to start with 1/20th to 1/10th acre, and get that small area successfully done first.
For example, test plots in the San Joaquin Valley in Kern County, even in a drought year with only 3.5" of annual precipitation (as during the 2001-2002 drought), expect greater than 50% plant cover; and of the plant cover present you want to see 95+% living local native plants by April first, measured (as % canopy cover at one foot from ground level) within a belt transect. What that mean is for every $200,000 spent, even in a drought year in Kern County, test plots should have at least 300 square feet that has 95+% local native plants.
Great Basin plantings of local native
grasses, should achieve solid
cover with the following grass plant diameters after two years:
Blue bunch wheatgrass = 3 inches,
Great Basin wild rye = 5 inches,
Indian Ricegrass = 3-5 inches, Poa = 2 inches, Sitanion = 6 inches, Thurber's Stipa = 4 inches.
If native grass plants are significantly smaller than the diameters listed above, then new test plots should be established, in order to invent the techniques necessary to achieve those standards.
Getting techniques to work successfully on a small scale first, allows you to prove out restoration technologies before a huge dollar investment is made.
EXOTIC CONTROL or ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION: Just for Fun, or to Accomplish Something within Ones Lifetime?---That is the question!--- If you are just doing exotic control or ecological restoration for fun, then you do not need an adequate budget to ever accomplish anything.
However, if you need to control exotics,
or to mitigate damage, or to restore a non-riparian ecosystem
for the survival of an Endangered Species, then you need to put
forward a significant per-acre budget, so that you will be able
to achieve something within ones lifetime.
"NATIVE SEEDBANK = Money in the Bank" When there is a native seedbank in the soils, that seedbank is like money in the bank.! It means that just by managing the exotics, the local native plants can regrow without any seeding or planting. Read how this occurred on 74 acres in Santa Cruz County, in "Releasing the Native Seedbank: An Innovative Approach to Restoring a Coastal California Ecosystem" in ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION, June 2002 (Vol.20, no.2) pages 102-106.
If there is a viable native seedbank, and seeding or planting is not necessary, then
the costs mentioned in the Budget section are slashed to a
fraction of the prices quoted, perhaps down to 1/10 th or less.
To see an example of the quality of grassland restoration that is possible in the arid West,
Read more about licensed technologies for
ecological restoration in the article
"Does the Lack of Patent filings Indicate that Ecological Restorationists Fail to See Themselves as Inventors or Innovators?" ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION. (2001) 19:(2) 70-71.
Contact us via e-mail
Craig Dremann, P.O. Box 361, Redwood City, CA 94064 - (650) 325-7333
---Getting native grasses established, problems? http://www.ecoseeds.com/good.example.html
---Developing technologies to get the job done: http://www.ecoseeds.com/talk.html
---UC Davis project sets the current replacement value of a California native grassland at millions of dollars per acre: http://www.ecoseeds.com/road.test.html
---What resources do we have left in the West to work with?
See maps from the 1997 Ecological Megatransect from California
to South Dakota at http://www.ecoseeds.com/megatransect.html