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  • Rangeland Watershed Initiative

    Handbook

    for Partners and Collaborators Interested in the

    Partner Biologist Model

  • P a g e | 2

    The Rangeland Watershed Initiative: for Partners and Collaborators Interested in the Partner Biologist Model

    V 1.1

    April 2019

    Suggested Citation: Garbach, K., Owens, B., Geupel, G., and W. Gilgert. 2019. The Rangeland Watershed Initiative Handbook V1.1. Point Blue Conservation Science, Petaluma, California. This is Point Blue Contribution No. 2224 About the Cover: Producer Adam Cline and Partner Biologist Corey Shake discuss rangeland management in Capay Valley. Photo credit: Phil Hogan (NRCS). Acknowledgements: The authors thank Libby Porzig, Grant Ballard, Alicia Herrera, Luke Petersen, Bonnie Eyestone, and Beverly Cherner for comments that helped improve earlier drafts of this handbook. Table of Contents

    1. Introduction ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………... 3

    2. Point Blue ………………………………………………………………..………………………………………………….. 3

    3. RWI Vision & Program History …………………………………………………………………………………….. 4

    4. NRCS/Point Blue Partnership ………………………………………………………………………………………. 5

    5. The Partner Biologist Model ………………………………………………………………………………………… 8

    6. Land Stewardship based in a Land Ethic …………………………………………………………………….. 10

    7. Ecological Monitoring …………………………………………………………….………………………….……… 14

    8. The Focal Species Concept ……………………………………………………………................................14

    9. Landowner Letters …………………………………………………………………..................................... 15

    10. NRCS Evaluation/Monitoring Tools ……………………………………………………………………………. 16

    11. NRCS Planning Tools ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 17

    12. Conclusion ……………………………………………………...………………………………………………………... 19

    13. Literature Cited …………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 19

    Appendix 1: Point Blue/ NRCS Partner Biologist job description, including duties and attributes ……………………………………………………………………………………… 20

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    1. Introduction This handbook provides an overview of the Rangeland Watershed Initiative (RWI) program structure, vision, activities, and approaches for conservation planning, implementation support, and ecological monitoring on rangelands. Developed by Point Blue Conservation Science in partnership with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), RWI advances the sustainability and conservation of working lands through value-added Partner Biologist positions. The examples provided throughout this handbook stem from our RWI program, in which Partner Biologists are hired by Point Blue in coordination with NRCS and supported in part by a Contribution Agreement between the two organizations. Partner Biologists are seated in NRCS Field Offices, where they provide biological expertise while working with NRCS teams, ranchers, farmers, and other conservation professionals. They are skilled in ecological monitoring and trained in the application of NRCS planning, assessment, and conservation tools. As Partner Biologists typically make a minimum three-year commitment to their positions and also live in the communities where they work, they are a valuable community resource. Over time, many serve as both catalysts and organizers for locally-based and regional conservation projects and activities. This handbook is intended for anyone that is interested in a model for how Partner Biologists can advance multi-benefit conservation actions on working lands. The examples provided describe how RWI advances Point Blue’s work in climate-smart conservation. The partnership descriptions are intended as a starting point for conversations about program vision, structure, strategies, collaborations, and activities that can advance conservation science and outcomes in working farms and ranches. 2. Point Blue Point Blue’s mission is to advance the conservation of birds, other wildlife, and ecosystems through science, partnerships, and outreach. Our 160 scientists, restoration specialists, and educators work to reduce the impacts of habitat loss, climate change, and other environmental threats while promoting nature-based solutions for wildlife and people, on land and at sea. Because of the collaborative climate-smart conservation work we do today, we envision healthy ecosystems that continue to sustain thriving wildlife and human communities well into the future. We define climate-smart conservation as addressing climate change impacts and other threats by using nature-based approaches to:

     Reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

     Enhance the benefits nature provides to humans—clean air, fresh water, fisheries, pollination, recreation, climate and flood control.

     Improve the abilities of wildlife and people to adapt to the rapidly changing climate.

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    Working Lands: A Strategic Priority RWI is a significant part of Point Blue’s strategic priority on Working Lands. Sustaining Working Lands is one of six major initiatives in our five-year strategic plan, and is being significantly advanced through our collaborative work with NRCS and agricultural producers. We believe that by working together, we can help ensure that plans, policies, and actions maximize nature’s benefits for humans as well as wildlife. Point Blue engages farmers, ranchers, foresters, NRCS, the U.S. Forest Service, and other partners to increase groundwater storage, gradually filter and release water downstream, increase soil carbon storage, sustain birds and other wildlife, and make working lands more economically productive. We achieve this by advancing wildlife-friendly grazing, farming and forestry practices, and developing metrics to document, improve, and replicate our shared successes. 3. RWI Vision & Program History The vision of the Rangeland Watershed Initiative (RWI) is that California’s working lands will be characterized by highly functional water, nutrient, and energy cycles and provide for healthy human and wildlife communities. The RWI team partners with livestock producers to implement management actions designed to improve soil health by increasing soil organic matter and water holding capacity, reduce soil compaction; improve vegetation communities and wildlife habitat; and conserve land in open space and wildlife corridors, while increasing ranch productivity and allowing ranchers to realize a profit. RWI aims to facilitate implementation of collaborative, science-based management strategies to enhance and conserve rangelands to benefit wildlife and human communities. The RWI program, at its core, is a partnership effort with farmers and ranchers and NRCS to plan, design, implement, adaptively manage, and assess (monitor) conservation strategies through a systems-based approach on farm and ranchland. Since its inception in 2011, the 14 RWI Partner Biologists positions have been held by 24 outstanding biologists who have engaged with more than 1000 producers; supported planning and implementation of conservation practices on 763,647 acres; and helped leverage $30.4 million in Farm Bill funds. Generally this is matched 1:1 by producers’ investment, for a total of ~$60.8 million in working lands conservation implementation investments through EQIP and other Farm Bill conservation programs (2011 – 2018).

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    4. NRCS/Point Blue Partnership Point Blue/NRCS Partner Biologists are jointly managed positions that provide value-added conservation support to NRCS Field Offices and communities. The current model relies on a contribution agreement between Point Blue and NRCS; this allows us to have cost-share positions that are supported by a mix of public and private funds. In partnership with NRCS, Point Blue fosters land stewardship through combined use of the 9- step Conservation Planning Process, and Climate-Smart Principles. Figure 1. NRCS Nine- Step Conservation Planning Process.

    Image from USDA- NRCS. RWI Partner Biologists work in partnership with NRCS field office staff to integrate a wildlife and fish perspective into the conservation planning process as well as into Farm Bill program planning, design, and implementation. Partner Biologists bring a value-added skill set to their respective Field Offices, with their knowledge of wildlife and habitat requirements and ability to monitor responses in bird use, vegetation community, and soil properties to conservation practice implementation. Part of this value-added work includes incorporating Point Blue’s Climate-Smart Principles. These principl