Since 2001, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Bay Area conservation portfolio has been supporting groups working to conserve native habitat and species in the San Francisco Bay Area. The portfolio stretches across projects in 10 counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma.
In September 2015, the foundation commissioned an outside evaluation firm, Blue Earth Consultants, LLC, to assess two key issues related to the Bay Area conservation work: stewardship outcomes and variability for lands directly conserved (e.g., through acquisitions, easements) and the impact of funding for “enabling interventions” (e.g., research, collaborations, policy).
Analyzing a representative subset of 20 land conservation and 10 enabling intervention grants, Blue Earth used a mixed-methods evaluation, combining both social and ecological measures. They identified and reaffirmed lessons learned and best practices among the portfolio’s partners, and highlighted key achievements resulting from the work.
Lessons most broadly applicable for others working in conservation in the region include the following:
- Threat management. Resource managers can face a variety of threats to site management, from those more easily controlled with sufficient capacity like illegal trespassing, to those harder to address due to external factors, such as invasive species and climate change. To address these challenges, it helps to (1) work collaboratively with communities to ensure low-impact recreation, (2) have infrastructure and enforcement capacity to deter trespassing and other illegal uses and (3) obtain funds to support a diversity of management activities.
- Engagement: For certain large, multi-faceted deals, conservation of a given site benefits from continued community and political engagement, not just during the site establishment process but through ongoing public meetings and outreach (e.g., newsletters, workshops, guided tours, hikes). In addition, continued engagement with public and private donors helps ensure long-term funding for stewardship.
- Audience identification: Enabling interventions work best when target audiences for resulting information are identified and engaged early in the project process, increasing the likelihood of product use and applicability to existing context and need (e.g., relevant geographic scale, scientific findings that fill agencies’ information gaps, etc.).
- Information management: Three primary types of information were particularly effective in helping to inform resource managers’ work: prioritized conservation actions for agencies to incorporate into planning, relevant and easily interpreted applied scientific research for decision-makers, and information outlining specific impacts on ecosystems and species.
Specific to the foundation’s portfolio of conservation grants the in the Bay Area, Blue Earth highlighted the following results and achievements:
- Protection and restoration: Due to foundation grants, grantees have protected and restored threatened and ecologically valuable land in the Bay Area, developed new partnerships, and leveraged and created funders and finance structures and mechanisms.
- Connectivity: Enabling intervention grants in the assessed subset advanced interventions focused on connectivity, and influenced investments for natural resources policy and management.
- Stewardship: Land protection subset grants leveraged dedicated funding mechanisms (e.g., endowments, organizational budgets) to support site stewardship.
- Decisions and networks: Information and data produced through Bay Area conservation grants have informed policies and decisions, and resulted in the launch of innovative collaborative networks in the Bay Area.
As a whole, the portfolio has made significant progress toward the stated goal of conserving and enhancing habitat for native plants and animals in the Bay Area through targeted property acquisitions, as well as efforts to strengthen natural resource use practices and leverage other conservation funding to extend impact. Together, these results also demonstrate the tangible impact and continued importance of funding from private and public donors who prioritize regional conservation, and a shared commitment to preserving the San Francisco Bay Area’s special character.