Chapter 12. Significant Natural Areas of California Fish And Game Code >> Division 2. >> Chapter 12.

The Legislature finds and declares that:
  (a) Areas containing diverse ecological and geological characteristics are vital to the continual health and well-being of the state's natural resources and of its citizens.
  (b) Many habitats and ecosystems that constitute the state's natural diversity are in danger of being lost.
  (c) Connectivity between wildlife habitats is important to the long-term viability of the state's biodiversity.
  (d) Preserving and connecting high-quality habitat for wildlife can create habitat strongholds.
  (e) Increasingly fragmented habitats threaten the state's wildlife species.
  (f) There is an opportunity to provide incentive for private landowners to maintain and perpetuate significant local natural areas in their natural state.
  (g) Efforts to preserve natural areas have been fragmented between federal, state, local, and private sectors.
  (h) Analysis of the state's habitat connectivity benefits from the consideration of all relevant data, including information from private and public landowners.
  (i) The department's existing mapping activities and products should be developed and sustained.
  (j) The importance of wildlife corridors to assist in adapting to climate change has been recognized by such groups as the Western Governors' Association, which unanimously approved a policy to protect wildlife migration corridors and crucial wildlife habitat in 2007. Individual local, state, and federal agencies have also adopted policies aimed at protecting wildlife corridors and habitat connectivity, in order to protect ecosystem health and biodiversity and to improve the resiliency of wildlife and their habitats to climate change. However, these efforts could be enhanced through establishment of a statewide policy to protect important wildlife corridors and habitat linkages where feasible and practicable.
(a) Contingent upon funding being provided by the Wildlife Conservation Board from moneys available pursuant to Section 75055 of the Public Resources Code, or from other appropriate bond funds, upon appropriation by the Legislature, the department shall investigate, study, and identify those areas in the state that are most essential as wildlife corridors and habitat linkages, as well as the impacts to those wildlife corridors from climate change, and shall prioritize vegetative data development in these areas.
  (b) It is the intent of the Legislature that the Wildlife Conservation Board use various funds to work with the department to complete a statewide analysis of wildlife corridors and connectivity to support conservation planning and climate change adaptation activities.
  (c) (1) It is the policy of the state to promote the voluntary protection of wildlife corridors and habitat strongholds in order to enhance the resiliency of wildlife and their habitats to climate change, protect biodiversity, and allow for the migration and movement of species by providing connectivity between habitat lands. In order to further these goals, it is the policy of the state to encourage, wherever feasible and practicable, voluntary steps to protect the functioning of wildlife corridors through various means, as applicable and to the extent feasible and practicable, those means may include, but are not limited to:
  (A) Acquisition or protection of wildlife corridors as open space through conservation easements.
  (B) Installing of wildlife-friendly or directional fencing.
  (C) Siting of mitigation and conservation banks in areas that provide habitat connectivity for affected fish and wildlife resources.
  (D) Provision of roadway undercrossings, overpasses, oversized culverts, or bridges to allow for fish passage and the movement of wildlife between habitat areas.
  (2) The fact that a project applicant does not take voluntary steps to protect the functioning of a wildlife corridor prior to initiating the application process for a project shall not be grounds for denying a permit or requiring additional mitigation beyond what would be required to mitigate project impacts under other applicable laws, including, but not limited to, the California Endangered Species Act (Chapter 1.5 (commencing with Section 2050) of Division 3) and the California Environmental Quality Act (Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000) of the Public Resources Code).
  (d) The Legislature finds and declares that there are a number of existing efforts, including, but not limited to, efforts involving working landscapes, that are already working to achieve the policy described in subdivision (c).
  (e) Subdivision (c) shall not be construed to create new regulatory requirements or modify the requirements of subparagraphs (B) and (E) of paragraph (4) of subdivision (a) of Section 2820 of the Fish and Game Code, or the California Environmental Quality Act (Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000) of the Public Resources Code).
  (f) For purposes of this section, the following terms have the following meanings:
  (1) "Habitat stronghold" means high-quality habitat that supports wildlife in being more resilient to increasing pressures on species due to climate change and land development.
  (2) "Wildlife corridor" means a habitat linkage that joins two or more areas of wildlife habitat, allowing for fish passage or the movement of wildlife from one area to another.
The Legislature further finds and declares that it is the policy of this state to encourage the cooperation of federal, state, local, and private sectors, including private organizations and individuals, in efforts to maintain the state's most significant natural areas.
There is hereby established the Significant Natural Areas Program which shall be administered by the department. The department, in administering this program, shall do all of the following:
  (a) Obtain access to the most recent information with respect to natural resources. In order to accomplish this, the department shall maintain, expand, and keep current a data management system, designated the California Natural Diversity Data Base, designed to document information on these resources. That data shall be made available to interested parties on request.
  (b) Develop and maintain a spatial data system that identifies those areas in the state that are most essential for maintaining habitat connectivity, including wildlife corridors and habitat linkages. This data should include information essential for evaluating the needs of wildlife species, as defined in Section 89.5, that require habitat connectivity for their long-term conservation, including distribution and movement patterns.
  (c) As appropriate, develop and maintain the database by incorporating mapping products and data developed by other state agencies.
  (d) Make all of the data sets, and associated analytical products, available to the public and other government entities.
  (e) Ensure cost sharing by all who use the data management system and develop an appropriate schedule of compensation to be paid by individuals using the data management system, not to exceed the actual costs for use of the data management system.
  (f) Ensure recognition of the state's most significant natural areas, including those affected by climate change. The department shall, after consultation with federal, state, and local agencies, education institutions, civic and public interest organizations, private organizations, landowners, and other private individuals, identify by means of periodic reports those natural areas deemed to be most significant.
  (g) Seek the maintenance and perpetuation of the state's most significant natural areas for present and future generations in the most feasible manner. The department shall consider alternative approaches for that maintenance, including alternatives to fee acquisition such as incentives, leasing, and dedication.
  (h) Reduce unnecessary duplication of effort. The department shall provide coordinating services to federal, state, local, and private interests wishing to aid in the maintenance and perpetuation of significant natural areas.
  (i) Actively pursue grants and cost-sharing opportunities with local, state, or federal agencies, or private entities that use the data sets and benefit from their creation and maintenance.
(a) In carrying out its responsibilities pursuant to this chapter, the department shall solicit and utilize all relevant results of existing studies and information from local government, state, and federal agencies, academic institutions, nonprofit organizations, certified environmental documents, private and public landowners, and agricultural and rangeland information developed by the Department of Conservation and agriculture associations.
  (b) The department shall seek input from representatives of other state agencies, local government, federal agencies, nongovernmental conservation organizations, landowners, agriculture, recreation, scientific entities, and industry in determining essential wildlife corridors and habitat linkages. Private and public landowners shall be given a reasonable opportunity to review and comment on the wildlife characteristics of their land if it is identified pursuant to this chapter. The department shall utilize all relevant information when developing data sets and associated analytical products pursuant to this chapter.
  (c) This chapter does not require, mandate, or authorize, under state or federal law, any state or local planning, zoning, or other land use action or decision.
  (d) This chapter does not alter any legal rights and privileges, under state or federal law, of ownership or use of privately or publicly owned property.
  (e) The Legislature finds and declares that the data sets and associated analytical products required pursuant to this chapter are for inventory and planning purposes and may not be suitable to support regulatory actions without additional specificity or information.
No authority or responsibility provided for in this chapter shall, of itself, change or prevent the change of the use of any area identified pursuant to the Significant Natural Areas Program.
(a) The department shall undertake the development of a vegetation mapping standard for the state.
  (b) The development of a state vegetation mapping standard by the department shall be done in consultation with interested stakeholders, including, but not limited to, government agencies, nongovernmental conservation organizations, landowners, agriculture, recreation, scientific entities, and industry. Components of the standard shall include the following:
  (1) A published classification system for all natural and seminatural vegetation communities present in California with sufficient detail to meet the analytical needs of government and nongovernment entities. The classification shall be consistent with national standards adopted by the Federal Geographic Data Committee.
  (2) Methods for field data collection, image interpretation, and digital map production and attribution.
  (3) Manuals, training materials, tools, and database structures for use by parties interested in performing vegetation mapping according to the standard.
  (4) Documented methods for performing postproject accuracy assessments to quantify the validity of the work. Private and public landowners shall be given reasonable opportunity to review, and comment on the accuracy of, the data collected on their lands.
  (5) Mechanisms for integrating new map products that meet the standard into a cohesive database with the intent of eventually completing statewide coverage.
  (c) The department shall submit a report to the budget committee of each house of the Legislature no later than January 10, 2008, providing its mapping standard and advising how the department will ensure that its standard will be updated to reflect changing technology and serve as the state's center of expertise on vegetation mapping.
  (d) The department may adopt regulations to implement this section.