Stories in California

California Stories

Highlights from our work in the Golden State

The Nature Conservancy's Applied Scientist, collecting data at various locations in the Garcia River Forest
Garcia River Forest The Nature Conservancy's Applied Scientist, collecting data at various locations in the Garcia River Forest © Bridget Besaw


Erica and her daughter at the California state capitol.
Erica Brand, Energy Director Erica and her daughter at the California state capitol. © TNC

Power of Place - August 13, 2019

I grew up in rural Northern California near a clean energy power plant where my father worked. My childhood was spent exploring the wilderness and learning about the complex electricity system that powers our world. These two things continue to define my life and livelihood.

As the director of The Nature Conservancy’s California Energy Strategy, I’m focused  on transitioning our state to 100% clean energy while protecting ecologically important lands and waters. The challenge at hand is significant: over the next two decades, California needs to undertake a bold transformation of the economy and the electricity system to tackle climate change, but not at the expense of our natural legacy.

I’m fortunate to be able to contribute to a future with cleaner energy, cleaner air, and a thriving network of wildlands and wildlife for my daughter, and the next generation of Californians, to explore.


In March 2020, TNC acquired the 462-acre Nobmann Ranch in the Lassen Foothills.
Nobmann Ranch In March 2020, TNC acquired the 462-acre Nobmann Ranch in the Lassen Foothills. © Cheryl Bretton

Protecting Land and Water in the Lassen Foothills - March 26, 2020

In March 2020, TNC acquired the 462-acre Nobmann Ranch in the Lassen Foothills. This beautiful property abuts our Dye Creek Preserve, connecting habitat for the state’s largest migratory deer herd and protecting Mill Creek, a haven for at-risk species like Chinook salmon and steelhead. Mill Creek has the highest elevation Chinook spawning grounds in North America. Salmon travel more than 300 miles from the ocean to reach their destination near Lassen National Park. Thanks to this acquisition, TNC has become one of the largest holders of water rights in the Mill Creek system. The property comes with an impressive water right of three cubic feet-per-second, the equivalent of three basketballs worth of water going by every second, 24 hours a day.

Mill Creek is fed by the cold, volcanic springs of the Cascade mountain Range, which makes it highly resistant to drought, unlike other rivers that rely on rain and snowmelt. We plan to bolster the health of the Mill Creek system and keep the stream flowing for salmon year-round by using our portfolio of water rights to deliver the water nature needs. With this work we are creating a model that can be replicated across the state to help California’s freshwater species thrive.

Now, the Nobmann property will be managed in conjunction with our Dye Creek Preserve. TNC holds more than 100,000 acres of conservation easements in the region, and this unique property adds a critical piece to the puzzle.


Conservation in a Hard Hat Protecting Salmon on the Ten Mile River

Conservation in a Hard Hat: Protecting Salmon on the North Coast - January 25, 2019

You might think habitat restoration is a delicate business, but sometimes it involves heavy machinery. Our salmon project on the Ten Mile River employed a full construction crew to bring the river back to its historical meander. TNC’s Dave Wright is leading the restoration, partnering with local ranchers and a local construction company to get the job done. Watch Dave’s time-lapse video to get a front-row seat.

The shape and flow of a river has a big impact on salmon health; young salmon need protected pools and bends to rest and feed while they grow. Over the last century, logging and ranching have reshaped our rivers, and salmon have suffered. Coho salmon have dwindled to about 1% of their historical population. Ten Mile River in Mendocino County is one of California’s last coastal watersheds that can still sustain this fragile species. It’s critical that we step in now to bolster what little habitat remains.

With support from the S. L. Gimbel Foundation and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, we are giving young salmon a head start in life. We’ve built pools, recreated woody debris, and planted willows to keep the water shaded and cool.

With such a diverse group of local partners involved, this project is redefining how restoration is implemented across our rivers and streams. 


150,000 square miles of protected critical seafloor habitat off the west coast.
Conservation Area Closures 150,000 square miles of protected critical seafloor habitat off the west coast. © TNC

Protecting Essential Ocean Habitat - June 4, 2020

Six years of collaborative efforts led by TNC’s California Ocean Program resulted in the protection of 150,000 square miles of critical seafloor habitat off the west coast. That’s nearly the size of the state of California! New regulations protect this habitat which is home to deep-sea coral and sponge formations. Fish populations have recovered to the extent that historically important fishing grounds have been able to reopen.

Protecting ocean habitat isn’t just a goal of environmental organizations; fishing communities also depend on a healthy ocean. But these two groups often find themselves at odds. In 2012, TNC and a coalition of organizations and fishing leaders came together to change that.  

We brought together an extraordinary collaborative with the help of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and fishing industry professionals of all kinds. The collaborative held over 30 port meetings up and down the West Coast to negotiate a new proposal to the federal government that would enhance habitat protections while saving fishermen’s livelihoods. 

By cross referencing fishermen’s knowledge of the seafloor with new scientific data, we were better able to identify high-value fishing areas and sensitive habitat for protection. The result was a massive win for the ocean and a more sustainable future for West Coast fishing communities. 

By the Numbers: Upgrading Essential Fish Habitat

  • 17,000 new square miles of seafloor fish habitat protected


    New square miles of seafloor fish habitat protected

  • 123,000 new square miles of deep-water habitat protected


    New square miles of deep-water habitat protected

  • •	3,000 square miles of sustainable fishing grounds reopened where fish populations have recovered


    Square miles of sustainable fishing grounds reopened

  • 275,000 square miles of California ocean habitat protected since 2006


    Square miles of CA ocean habitat protected since 2006

California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) framed by kelp beds in Monterey Bay, California.
Burst California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) framed by kelp beds in Monterey Bay, California. © Tyler Schiffman/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Saving Kelp with Satellite Imagery - March 28, 2020

California is in a kelp crisis. In the last few years, California’s North Coast region lost more than 93% of its bull kelp forests. Rising ocean temperatures set off a chain reaction that resulted in massive kelp loss, and now it’s up to us to restore the underwater forests that were once home to our state’s most iconic ocean species. The first step to restoring kelp forests is finding the healthy strongholds that remain.

Enter KelpWatch, an innovative platform that allows users to view changes in kelp dynamics across California over a 30-year period. Built by our TNC technology team in partnership with leading scientists at UCLA and UCSB, KelpWatch hosts recent and historical data on kelp distribution along our coast. Tracking kelp can be a difficult task because kelp abundance can change dramatically over just a few months, so we’re using machine learning and satellite imagery to visualize changes in kelp forest extent over time. As always, our goal is to develop solutions here in California that can scale around the world. With KelpWatch, we’re building the tools to fight global kelp loss, here at home.


Peninsula area in Long Beach, California
Sea Level Rise Peninsula area in Long Beach, California © TNC

Nature: California’s New Coast Guard - April 8, 2020

The effects of sea-level rise could have a serious impact on our coast. If we do nothing, flooding and erosion will displace whole communities. TNC is working with Long Beach and Silicon Valley—two of our state’s most vulnerable communities—to bring a key player into the fight against sea-level rise: nature.

The San Francisco Bay is the West Coast’s largest estuary, but it has lost over 90% of its historic tidal wetlands. Protecting the Bay’s remaining wetlands is critical to insulating local communities from climate-driven floods and storm events, as well as protecting over 1,000 species. San Mateo County—home to Silicon Valley—is the most at-risk county in the state. TNC is exploring insurance as a tool to protect and restore the San Francisco Bay’s tidal wetlands and marshes. We will map and quantify the storm-surge and flood-risk reduction benefits of marshes and use that information to help insurers develop policies that account for the protection they provide.

In Southern California, Long Beach is already facing flooding, and according to long-term projections, some areas will be permanently under water. TNC is working with the local community to start a conversation about “managed retreat” or safely moving out of harm’s way before a disaster forces a change. We are collaborating with the Aquarium of the Pacific on a series of community dialogues to help Long Beach residents evaluate options for the future. We’ve also partnered with Virtual Planet Technologies to develop the Long Beach Sea Level Rise Explorer, a virtual reality experience that allows users to visualize sea-level rise impacts and potential solutions for Long Beach.