Report 2000-101 Summary - June 2000
California's Wildlife Habitat and Ecosystem:
The State Needs to Improve Its Land Acquisition Planning and Oversight
RESULTS IN BRIEF
The State of California is home to numerous animal and plant species that are listed as endangered or threatened. Many entities, including state and federal agencies and private and nonprofit organizations, acquire land in California to preserve and restore the environments in which these plants and animals live. Although the CALFED Bay-Delta Program (Calfed) does not acquire land for these purposes, it funds projects that may include land acquisition that support its goals for restoring the ecosystem. State entities that do acquire land for environmental purposes include the Department of Fish and Game (Fish and Game), which acquires land to protect rare, endangered, or threatened animals, and the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), which acquires land to preserve the natural resources of its park system. Each of the many entities that acquire land has a process for selecting and acquiring land to accomplish its individual mission and objectives, but a uniform statewide process for acquiring such land does not exist.
More importantly, the State does not have an overall policy with goals and objectives for statewide land use that would ensure that the efforts of various entities are coordinated. Although each player identifies the land necessary to fulfill its individual ecosystem restoration objectives, and some degree of formal and informal coordination occurs among state, federal, local, and private entities when acquiring specific properties, no central vision exists of how these efforts benefit the State as a whole.
The Legislature recognized the need to protect state land resources and to ensure that this land was preserved and used in economically and socially desirable ways. As early as 1970, it charged the Office of Planning and Research (OPR), housed within the Governor's Office, with overseeing the continuous evaluation and execution of statewide environmental goals. Thirty years later, the OPR still has not developed a statewide land use policy. Although it acknowledges its responsibility, the OPR has insufficient resources to fulfill its various statutory obligations, including this task. A statewide policy would incorporate the needs and priorities of the State and could furnish a framework for the many entities that acquire land for ecological purposes. To facilitate its land use planning, California also needs to track data such as the purpose for which land was acquired.
Another major problem facing California is the managing and monitoring of its land. Fish and Game and the DPR, the major holders of state land for restoring the ecosystem and preserving wildlife habitat, have not completed management plans for 318 (50 percent) of their 632 properties and parks. Management plans, the essential first step of proper land management, identify the natural resources present and the goals or strategies for maintaining each property for the purpose it was intended.
Both departments agree that they can improve their land management efforts. In the past, insufficient funding has hampered their efforts in this area. However, Fish and Game and the DPR have recently received additional funds for certain land management activities. Also, the passage of Proposition 12-the Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Water, Clean Air, and Coastal Protection Act of 2000-authorizes additional funds for these departments to acquire land and perform major maintenance, such as rehabilitation, restoration, and improvement projects, but does not identify how the ongoing costs of operating and maintaining land will be met.
To ensure that it fulfills its responsibility for developing a statewide land use policy, the OPR should do the following:
- Develop and implement a comprehensive approach for addressing statewide land use planning. Inherent in this mission should be the development of the State's overall plan for acquiring land for ecosystem restoration and wildlife habitat preservation.
- Identify staffing and resource requirements necessary to fulfill its mandates.
- Work with other state entities to ensure that a composite inventory of land the State owns exists. To facilitate statewide land use planning, the inventory should include information on the purpose for which each property was acquired.
- Prepare management plans for all properties, update older plans, and then follow them.
- Continue to request additional funding so that land acquired for ecosystem restoration and wildlife habitat preservation is kept in its desired condition.
- Establish a mechanism in future bond acts involving land acquisitions that sets aside a portion of the proceeds for major maintenance projects.
- Establish a mechanism to ensure that ongoing management of land acquired with the bond money is funded; for example, it could create a designated revenue stream or require the departments to establish a plan demonstrating how those ongoing costs will be met before they acquire the land.
The Office of Planning and Research concurs with our recommendations. It also recognizes the importance of other state entities having adequate information and the necessary data that will allow it to effectively coordinate land use planning and to develop a statewide environmental goals and policies report.
The California Resources Agency did not address all of our recommendations, stating only that it will work with the Department of Fish and Game and the Department of Parks and Recreation to develop new plans or review and update, as necessary, existing plans for all properties. Therefore, we look forward to receiving its 60-day, six-month, and one-year responses to the audit to assess the steps taken towards implementing our recommendations.