On September 22, 2016, the Governor signed Assembly Bill 2087 which created CDFW's Regional Conservation Investment Strategy pilot program (Program). The Program went into effect on January 1, 2017 and is administered by CDFW's Habitat Conservation Planning Branch in Sacramento. On July 21, 2017 the Governor signed Senate Bill 103 which makes two changes to Assembly Bill 2087: 1) it removes the January 1, 2020 “sunset” provision; and 2) it allows a Regional Conservation Investment Strategy (RCIS) to be exempt from the “cap” (i.e., the limit of eight RCISs that may be approved by CDFW) if a state water or transportation infrastructure agency requests approval of the RCIS.
CDFW photo by Billie Wilson
The new Program encourages a voluntary, non-regulatory regional planning process intended to result in higher-quality conservation outcomes and includes an advance mitigation tool. The Program uses a science-based approach to identify conservation and enhancement opportunities that, if implemented, will help California's declining and vulnerable species by protecting, creating, restoring, and reconnecting habitat and may contribute to species recovery and adaptation to climate change and resiliency.
The Program consists of three components: regional conservation assessments (RCAs), regional conservation investment strategies (RCISs), and mitigation credit agreements (MCAs).
Regional Conservation Assessments (RCAs)
An RCA is a voluntary, non-regulatory, non-binding conservation assessment that includes information and analyses of important species, ecosystems, protected areas, and habitat linkages at the USDA ecoregion scale and may include more than one ecoregion. RCAs include information supporting the development of long-term conservation priorities including ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, water conservation, and preservation of agricultural lands. RCAs also support the development of RCISs that will more specifically identify areas of greatest conservation value. An RCA is not required to develop an RCIS.
Regional Conservation Investment Strategies (RCISs)
An RCIS is a voluntary, non-regulatory, and non-binding conservation assessment that includes information and analyses relating to the conservation of focal species, their associated habitats, and the conservation status of the RCIS land base. Any public agency may develop an RCIS. An RCIS establishes biological goals and objectives at the species level and describes conservation actions and habitat enhancement actions that, if implemented, will contribute to those goals and objectives. Those actions will benefit the conservation of focal species, habitats, and other natural resources and they may be used as a basis to provide advance mitigation through the development of credits (see MCA section below) or to inform other conservation investments. Examples of potential RCIS conservation and habitat enhancement actions include, but are not limited to:
- Land acquisition and protection
- Habitat creation & restoration
- Restoration of creeks and rivers
- Restoration of habitat on public land
- Installation of wildlife crossings and fish passage barrier removal
The development of RCISs does not create, modify, or impose regulatory requirements or standards, regulate land use, establish land use designations, or affect the land use authority of a public agency. If approved by CDFW, an RCIS may be valid for up to 10 years. CDFW may extend the duration of an approved or amended RCIS for an additional 10 years provided the RCIS is updated to include new scientific information and the RCIS continues to meet the Program’s requirements as outlined in Fish and Game Code (Chapter 9, Section 1850, et seq.). Only eight RCISs may be approved by CDFW. However, an RCIS may be exempt from this “cap” if a state water or transportation infrastructure agency requests approval of the RCIS. -- “Any state water or transportation infrastructure agency that requests approval of a regional conservation investment strategy pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 1852 of the Fish and Game Code that may be used to facilitate mitigation for an infrastructure project shall not be subject to the limitation on the number of regional conservation investment strategies set in Section 1861 of the Fish and Game Code.” (Streets and Highways Code Section 800.6(j))
Mitigation Credit Agreements (MCAs)
An MCA is a mitigation credit agreement developed under an approved RCIS. An MCA is developed in collaboration with CDFW to create mitigation credits by implementing the conservation or habitat enhancement actions identified in an RCIS. An RCIS must be developed and approved before an MCA can be prepared. All MCAs must be located within the boundary of an approved RCIS.
MCAs create credits that may be used as compensatory mitigation for impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act, the California Endangered Species Act, and the Lake and Streambed Alteration Program. Guidelines will provide information and processes on MCA development, review, and approval.
Any person or entity may enter into an MCA with CDFW to create credits, even if the person or entity was not involved in the development of the RCIS. Persons or entities may create, use, sell, or otherwise transfer mitigation credits upon CDFW’s finding that credits have been created in accordance with Program requirements. The guidelines will include information on how transferred, sold, and utilized credits will be tracked.