In summary

Streamlined regulatory processes for ecosystem restoration in California will be critical to growing green jobs and meeting environmental goals.

By Ashley Boren, Special to CalMatters

Ashley Boren is the CEO of Sustainable Conservation, a San Francisco- and Modesto-based nonprofit, ashleyboren@suscon.org.

California is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots – home to more unique species of plants and animals than any other state in the U.S. This biodiversity makes up the beautiful land and seascapes of the world’s fifth-largest economy and sustains our health, cultures and quality of life. 

Yet it is disappearing at alarming rates. Today’s environmental, economic and social challenges – climate change, wildfires, habitat loss and the millions of Californians facing pandemic-related unemployment – threaten our Golden State’s resilience like never before.

With 30% of plants and animals facing extinction, and predictions that we have 10 years to solve our global climate crisis, California needs to rapidly accelerate pathways for restoring ecosystems at the pace and scale needed to meet these challenges.

How did we get here?

Environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act are designed to protect the environment from damage. What these laws are not designed to do is provide a pathway for restoring nature damaged, for instance, by development projects. 

California’s regulatory system is also not set up to support habitat restoration projects. Case in point: a beneficial restoration project faces the same timing, cost and regulatory complexity hurdles as a harmful development project. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that California is taking bold steps to address this. The state has joined 38 countries pledging to conserve 30% of land and coastal waters by 2030, and is well-positioned to support the Biden-Harris administration’s executive orders to address the climate crisis. California also launched the Cutting Green Tape initiative to increase the pace and scale of restoration efforts by streamlining the process to approve and facilitate projects.

To help achieve that, the California Landscape Stewardship Network released a Cutting Green Tape report with recommendations informed by 150 conservation experts, including Sustainable Conservation. We were proud to share our decades of experience in accelerating restoration and celebrate the network’s development of recommendations in partnership with practitioners and advocates who know best. 

Implementing the recommendations would accelerate the process for building ecosystem resilience – the ability to recover from catastrophic events, and respond to changing climate conditions rapidly and effectively, with strong environmental protections in place.

Sustainable Conservation supports the Cutting Green Tape recommendations based on the benefits of improving agency coordination and eliminating duplicative processes and policies. We applaud the state for recognizing that immediate action is needed to save species from extinction and urge the California Natural Resources Agency to convene policymakers, conservationists and other interested parties to discuss how to get these recommendations implemented as soon as possible.

Offering another benefit beyond the new investments that restoration projects bring to the state, Cutting Green Tape can help grow California’s green economy at a time when both jobs and climate resilience are desperately needed. 

Streamlined regulatory processes for restoration will in fact be critical to growing green jobs and meeting environmental goals. A 2015 study showed that ecological restoration in the U.S. generates $9.5 billion annually and directly employs about 126,000 people. It creates more local jobs than the coal, steel or timber industries. Getting projects approved and completed more quickly can put people back to work and help companies stay in business. 

Having a bold sustainability vision and using new paradigms to achieve it demonstrate California’s environmental leadership.

It is now morally imperative and fiscally sound to take action that protects and restores our natural resources and ecological systems. Time is of the essence.

The sooner the state can implement the Cutting Green Tape recommendations in partnership with key stakeholders, the sooner California can save our waterways and wildlife, and boost our economic and climate resilience.

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