A Budget Breakthrough for CA Native Plants

By Nick Jensen and Andrea Williams

With California poised to invest billions of dollars in wildfire management, climate change adaptation, and other large-scale initiatives, we need a strong scientific foundation for decision-making. Now, the state has invested unprecedented funding to fortify that foundation. 

In June, Governor Newsom signed this year’s state budget into law, securing a historic $20 million for fine-scale vegetation mapping and $13 million to update the California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB). 

California’s magnificent Trinity Alps are one of many noteworthy regions where fine-scale mapping and rare plant protection are critical. Photo: Julie Evens

The $20 million for vegetation mapping is the first half of what is expected to be a $40 million total investment over two years. CNPS will be working to ensure the year 2 allocation makes its way into the 23-24 budget. With that secure, California’s leaders will have realized
in full a CNPS funding request that has been months in the making.

This funding comes at just the right time.

California has urgent goals, like protecting 30 percent of its lands and waters by 2030. But to protect what matters most, we need to know what rare species and sensitive natural communities occur and where. The data provided through vegetation mapping and the CNDDB will give advocates, scientists, land planners, and decision makers the information they need to make the best decisions possible about where we build, what we conserve, and how best to adapt to climate change.

Never before has so much funding been available to document and study our state’s natural resources.

For decades, CNPS has partnered to characterize California’s vegetation and to document our state’s rare plants. Over the years, 60% of the state’s vegetation has been mapped and tens of thousands of rare plant occurrences have been cataloged in the California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB). The data in the CNDDB and vegetation maps are invaluable resources, but it is incomplete. Forty percent of our land, including much of the Central Coast, northern Sierra Nevada and Klamath Ranges lack fine-scale vegetation mapping; and a massive backlog of records in the CNDDB means information can be over a decade out of date.

This year’s investment in vegetation mapping will ensure that habitats are characterized, rare plants are mapped, and ecological processes and attributes are documented. The spate of wildfires in recent years has illuminated the importance of understanding the dynamics of vegetation and ecosystem processes as we grapple with combined considerations for climate change, post-fire recovery, and the spread of invasive species. In addition, the $20 million will help to inform land management and acquisition decisions that are aligned with the 30×30 initiative.

CNPS Vegetation Program staff at work in a post-burn landscape. Photo: Julie Evens

The $13 million in funding for the CNDDB will ensure that our state’s rarest plants and animals are well documented. This database is used to inform where to site infrastructure, including renewable energy projects and future housing development. Furthermore, this investment will aid in the scientific understanding of which rare species are in dire need of additional study, better management, and conservation action. Quite simply, we cannot make good decisions unless they are informed by the best available science.

The next several years will be an exciting time for California’s botanical community. Never before has so much funding been available to document and study our state’s natural resources, and we’re grateful to the many partners in our scientific and conservation community who supported this important budget request.

This unprecedented investment was only possible with leadership in the senate and assembly and governor’s office. Specifically, we would like to thank Assemblymembers Richard Bloom, Phil Ting, and Anthony Rendon; Senators Toni Atkins, Nancy Skinner, and Bob Wieckowski; and Governor Newsom for taking this important step toward protecting California’s botanical resources.

Nick Jensen is the Conservation Program Director for CNPS, and Andrea Williams is the CNPS Director of Biodiversity Initiatives.

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