Our Program and Focus Areas

Landscape science for ecosystem solutions

SFEI’s Resilient Landscapes Program develops innovative ecosystem restoration and management strategies to re-establish and sustain key eco¬logical functions and services. These strategies are helping integrate natural and human infrastructure to create systems that are more adaptive to climate change and other stressors. The Program has several focus areas:

  • SFEI’s pioneering Historical Ecology studies provide a new foundation for understanding the inherent potential in local landscapes, helping identify and prioritize land¬scape restoration and management options.
  • Integrative Geomorphology investigates geomorphic processes in watersheds and tidal environments to help develop resilient landscape management approaches that consider climate change and other key ecosystem drivers.
  • Through Landscape Ecology, we bring advanced spatial analysis to incorporate ecological patterns and processes to landscape designs at multiple scales.
  • Our work in Wetland Science creates tools for designing, tracking, and visualizing changing conditions in our valued aquatic resources.
  • Resilient landscapes are also cultural landscapes. SFEI strives to bring the perspectives of non-governmental organizations, governmental agencies, and indigenous peoples into the broader conversation about ecosystem stewardship.
  • These diverse tools are applied though SFEI’s Center for Resilient Landscapes. The CRL is turning the San Francisco Bay Area into a world leader in utilization of landscape data to help restore and sustain natural ecosystem benefits. The Center brings together new understanding of how California landscapes work with advanced tools to assess and track landscape change in a creative setting that links scientists,resource managers, and the public. Drawing on the diversity and complexity of the native California landscape, we can reshape our neighborhoods, cities, and surrounding lands to be ecologically abundant, resilient landscapes.

We recognize that resilient landscapes are ultimately cultural landscapes. We therefore strive to bring the perspec­tives of non-governmental organizations as well as governmental agencies into the broader conversation about ecosys­tem stewardship. We are expanding the Program to include Traditional Ecological Knowledge, especially the natural resource management practices of indigenous people, to further broaden the discussion of what is possible and appropriate to achieve through collaborative landscape design and management.

For additional information, please contact Program Director Robin Grossinger, Program Director Letitia Grenier, or Program Manager Ruth Askevold.

Historical ecology has formed the foundation of SFEI’s Resilient Landscapes Program since its inception. This interdisciplinary field synthesizes diverse historical records to learn how habitats were distributed and ecological functions were maintained within the native California landscape.


Given the dramatic changes to California landscapes during the past two centuries, we often have only rudimentary understanding of the systems we seek to protect and enhance. In fact, there is a growing recognition that restoration efforts have often misinterpreted earlier conditions, resulting in missed opportunities and, in some cases, failed projects. However, the development of accurate, reliable, and broadly-supported pictures of historical condition and change can help correctly identify the causes of current challenges, and reveal previously unrecognized management options. Understanding how streams, wetlands, and woodlands were organized along physical gradients helps scientists and managers develop new strategies for more integrated and functional landscape management. Historical reconstructions also educate and engage the public imagination, increasing public will for local and regional landscape stewardship.

SFEI's historical ecology studies have contributed to numerous restoration projects in the Bay Area and coastal California. Projects are carried out in collaboration with local partners and with a team of regional and local science advisers, with results made broadly available through website, publication, and presentation. SFEI's innovative approaches have been featured in New Scientist Magazine, Landscape Journal, The Living Landscape: An Ecological Approach to Landscape Planning, the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, and the Historical Ecology Handbook, as well as general audience science programs such as KQED’s QUEST and the Saving the Bay documentary.

For more information, please contact historicalecology@sfei.org.

With over a million acres of protected land and a strong agricultural heritage, the San Francisco Bay Area is home to a unique mosaic of open space and working lands. This landscape offers multiple benefits to local ecosystems and Bay Area communities, with shared uses spanning biodiversity conservation, water resource protection, recreation, and agriculture. Terrestrial Ecology at SFEI supports natural resource management in these open spaces, drawing from ecosystem ecology, spatial ecology, and community ecology. Using best-available science, we help land managers make ecologically-informed decisions around management goals such as biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration, and fire risk management. 

Terrestrial Ecology at SFEI brings expertise in biogeochemistry, landscape ecology, community ecology, and geospatial analysis to projects in the Bay Area and beyond. In partnership with natural resource agencies, land trusts, and other land managers, we leverage this expertise to evaluate co-benefits and tradeoffs among ecosystem services, and to identify opportunities for improved land stewardship. Our work spans quantitative and qualitative data analysis through synthesis, modeling, and field-based research, and we collaborate with scientific advisors from local universities, agencies, and research institutes to integrate science across multiple disciplines and management priorities. Collaborating with other SFEI focus areas such as Historical Ecology and the Urban Nature Lab, Terrestrial Ecology at SFEI offers scientific and locally-specific guidance for healthy and resilient parklands, agricultural lands, and wildlands.

For more information, please contact terrestrialecology@sfei.org

The Wetland Monitoring & Assessment Focus Area provides scientific and technological support for coordinated, collaborative, cost-effective wetland planning, management, assessment, and reporting across government policies and programs. Working with other Focus Areas at SFEI, and with many outside partners, we help all interests develop place-based goals for wetland protection by developing and implementing tools, such as Historical Ecology,  the California Aquatic Resource Inventory (CARI), and the California Rapid Assessment Method for wetlands (CRAM) to understand how the abundance, diversity, and condition of wetlands have changed due to nature and people, and to explore alternative ways to protect and restore wetlands for the future.

Products of the WMA Focus Area are designed for consistent adoption into wetland regulatory and management procedures at all levels of government, to promote coordinated, consensus-based, scientifically sound wetland and stream restoration and protection. Products include WRAMP, the state wetland definition and delineation method, California Aquatic Resource Inventory (CARI) and its eco-regional versions, Habitat Project Tracker, the Riparian Zone Estimator Tool (RipZET), the California Rapid Assessment Method for wetlands and streams (CRAM), Landscape Profile Tool, Green Plan-IT for large scale restoration planning, and the Science Frameworks for the Russian River Regional Monitoring Program (R3MP) and the Bay-Delta Wetlands Regional Monitoring Program (Wetlands RMP). 

The WMA POD features projects that integrate all of these products into quantitative watershed-based assessments of wetland and riparian abundance, diversity, distribution and condition that are accessible through EcoAtlas to support a watershed approach to aquatic resource restoration and protection. Example assessments have been produced for the Upper Truckee River (Alpine Co), Santa Clara County watersheds, Wildcat Creek (Alameda Co), Napa River (Napa Co), and Mark West Creek (Sonoma Co). WMA personnel serve on many regional, state, and national committees to advise wetland policies, programs, and projects. 

For more information, please contact wetlandmonitoring@sfei.org

The Watershed Science and Management Focus Area investigates physical and ecological processes to help develop resilient landscape management approaches for watershed ecosystems. With expertise in geomorphology, hydrology, and ecology, the Watershed Science and Management Focus Area uses a variety of analytical tools to provide an understanding of historical, contemporary, and projected future watershed processes and landscape evolution at a range of spatial and temporal scales. This understanding is used to help managers determine landscape sensitivity to natural and anthropogenic influences, identify short-term and long-term management priorities, and develop multi-benefit solutions for habitat restoration that account for changing climatic and land use conditions.

The Watershed Science and Management Focus Area is currently working with partners around the San Francisco Bay region and the state of California on the following efforts:

  • Developing watershed-scale management visions that identify opportunities for ecosystem improvement
  • Conducting focused field investigations of hillslope and channel physical and ecological processes
  • Investigating physical drivers for in-channel and riparian ecological condition
  • Assessing the potential impacts of climate change on future watershed conditions and sediment delivery 
  • Developing innovative approaches for urban green infrastructure that provides multiple hydrologic and ecological benefits

For more information, please contact watershedscience@sfei.org

As sea levels continue to rise at an increasing rate, communities will need to adapt the California shoreline to create greater social, economic, and ecological resilience. Sea-level rise, together with high tides and storm surges, will impact roads, wastewater infrastructure, low-lying communities, and ecosystems in many of our region’s most vulnerable areas. Shoreline ecosystems provide multiple benefits such as habitat for wildlife, protection from storm surges, carbon sequestration, and recreation opportunities. With our Shoreline Resilience Focus Area, we continuously work toward the goal of maintaining and improving our natural and built shorelines while making them more resilient to climate change.

With a unique skill set of skills and relationships drawn from decades of working in the San Francisco Bay community, we bring together diverse stakeholders to arrive at science-based landscape-scale solutions for shoreline restoration, adaptation, and resilience. We bring expertise in geomorphology, wetlands ecology, sediment science, planning, and landscape design to make relevant scientific information available for decision-making. We develop regional-scale scientific studies, geospatial tools, and site-scale visions for shorelines across California, focusing on San Francisco Bay and Southern California wetlands. We partner with regional resource agencies, flood control districts, local governments, NGOs, community organizations, wastewater treatment plants, land trusts, and others to develop natural and nature-based strategies for shoreline adaptation with multiple co-benefits. We also serve as advisors to agencies on specific projects, governance decisions, and policy changes. 

For more information, please contact shoreline@sfei.org.

Projects Related to the Resilient Landscapes Program

Delta Landscapes Project

The Delta Landscapes Project, which began in 2012 and will run through 2016, has developed a body of work to inform landscape-scale restoration of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem.


California's EcoAtlas provides access to information for effective wetland management. EcoAtlas is a set of tools for generating, assembling, storing, visualizing, sharing, and reporting environmental data and information. The tools can be used individually or together, and they can be adjusted or tuned to meet the specific needs of environmental planners, regulators, managers, scientists, and educators. The maps and tools can be used to create a complete picture of aquatic resources in the landscape by integrating stream and wetland maps, restoration information, and monitoring results with land use, transportation, and other information important to the state’s wetlands.

Contaminant Data Download and Display (CD3)

Contaminant Data Display and Download Tool or CD3  is an innovative visualization tool for accessing water quality data for the San Francisco Bay-Delta and northern montane regions. It is the primary tool for accessing and downloading the San Francisco Bay Regional Monitoring Program’s (RMP) long-term dataset and other project data stored in SFEI's Regional Data Center (RDC).

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Historical Ecology Study

The San Francisco Estuary Institute-Aquatic Science Center, in collaboration with the California Department of Fish and Game, has completed a historical ecology study of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The project improves understanding of what the Delta looked like and how it functioned prior to the significant modification that has occurred over the last 160 years.https://www.sfei.org/documents/sacramento-san-joaquin-delta-historical-ecology-investigation-exploring-pattern-and-proces

Coyote Creek Watershed Historical Ecology Study

This report synthesizes historical evidence into a picture of how Coyote Creek looked and functioned before intensive modification. Prepared for the Santa Clara Valley Water District, the report helps explain contemporary landscape conditions and identify options for watershed restoration, natural flood protection, and integrated water management.

Making Nature's City

Cities will face many challenges over the coming decades, from adapting to a changing climate to accommodating rapid population growth. A related suite of challenges threatens global biodiversity, resulting in many species facing extinction. While urban planners and conservationists have long treated these issues as distinct, there is growing evidence that cities not only harbor a significant fraction of the world’s biodiversity, but also that they can also be made more livable and resilient for people, plants, and animals through nature-friendly urban design. 

Eelgrass Data Management and Project Tracking

Eelgrass (Zostera marina and Z. pacifica) is recognized as an important ecological resource in nearshore open coast areas, shallow bays, and estuaries throughout coastal California. 

Healthy Watersheds Resilient Baylands

Through the Healthy Watersheds Resilient Baylands project, SFEI and sixteen partner organizations are developing multi-benefit tools to enhance climate change resilience in San Francisco Bay. Healthy Watersheds Resilient Baylands has three major components: Making Nature’s City: a Science-based Framework for Building Urban Biodiversity, Tidal Wetlands Restoration and Implementation Projects.

Santa Clara Valley Water District Priority D5 Project's Watershed Condition Assessments (2010 to 2018)

SFEI and the Santa Clara Valley Water District's (Valley Water) Priority D-5 Project have been conducting baseline ecological condition assessments in Santa Clara County, CA to characterize the distribution and abundance of stream and wetlands in five major watersheds, and assess the overall ecological condition of streams in the watersheds based on the California Rapic Assessment Method for streams (CRAM).  The surveys employ the state's recommended Wetland and Riparian Area Monitoring Plan's aproach that includes the use of GIS-base maps of aquatice resources (BAARI), and spatially-balanced ambient stream surveys using CRAM.

Urban Ecological Planning Guide for Santa Clara Valley

SFEI partnered with Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority to create a guide on how to support biodiversity across the urbanized Santa Clara Valley. Urban greening projects (e.g., street trees, bioswales, gardens) are developing in piecemeal fashion. Designing and linking projects with ecology in mind can better support biodiversity, which in turn can help cultivate a sense of place and human health benefits.

Publications related to the Resilient Landscapes Program

The Institute has collectively produced more than 1300 reports, articles, and other publications over the course of its 24-year existence. The following list represents those publications associated with this individual program and its focus areas.

Year of Publication: 2019

Spotswood E, Grossinger R, Hagerty S, Bazo M, Benjamin M, Beller E, et al.. Making Nature's City. Richmond, CA: San Francisco Estuary Institute; 2019 . Report No.: 947.  (10.41 MB) (33.4 MB)
Hagerty S, Spotswood E, McKnight K, Grossinger RM. Urban Ecological Planning Guide for Santa Clara Valley. Richmond, CA: San Francisco Estuary Institute; 2019 . Report No.: 941.  (42.6 MB)

Year of Publication: 2018

Baumgarten S, Clark E, Dusterhoff S, Grossinger RM, Askevold RA. Petaluma Valley Historical Hydrology and Ecology Study. Richmond, CA: San Francisco Estuary Institute; 2018 . Report No.: 861.  (121.7 MB) (43.68 MB)
McKnight K, Dusterhoff SD, Grossinger RM, Askevold RA. Resilient Landscape Vision for the Calabazas Creek, San Tomas Aquino Creek, and Pond A8 Area: Bayland-Creek Reconnection Opportunities. Richmond, CA: San Francisco Estuary Institute-Aquatic Science Center; 2018 p. 40. Report No.: 870.  (68.63 MB) (20.14 MB)
Richey A, Dusterhoff SD, McKnight K, Salomon M, Hagerty S, Askevold RA, et al.. Resilient Landscape Vision for Upper Penitencia Creek. Richmond, CA: San Francisco Estuary Institute - Aquatic Science Center; 2018 . Report No.: 894.  (67.6 MB) (11.75 MB)
Schoellhamer D, McKee L, Pearce S, Kauhanen P, Salomon M, Dusterhoff S, et al.. Sediment Supply to San Francisco Bay. Richmond, CA: San Francisco Estuary Institute ; 2018 . Report No.: 842.  (1.74 MB)

Where Our Resilient Landscapes Program Works