A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
Sept 20, 2007 Volume 38 / Number 1


Sacramento River Grant Creates Multidisciplinary Research Opportunities

Photo courtesy of Sacramento River Conservation Area Forum

A recent million-dollar Sacramento River monitoring and assessment grant has opened up opportunities for CSU, Chico researchers from multiple disciplines, said Kristin Cooper-Carter, project director.

The CALFED Ecosystem Restoration program grant was awarded to the CSU, Chico Research Foundation and partners from UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, the Sacramento River Conservation Area Forum, and the Nature Conservancy to evaluate the health of restoration projects along the Sacramento River. The partners have created the Sacramento River Monitoring and Assessment Project (SRMAP), an endeavor that combines state-of-the-art geographical information systems (GIS) analysis and the expertise of leading North State researchers to assess conditions and changes in riparian vegetation and river dynamics—essentially providing a “snapshot” of the ecological status of the river.

SRMAP has been several years in the making. It required the cooperation of a diverse group of leading regional organizations to meld their individual proposals into one plan. The process of compromise was a challenge, said Cooper-Carter, who estimates that she crafted 27 versions of the scope of work. Ultimately, she said, “The different players jelled in a way I don’t think any of us would have imagined.”

CSU, Chico is responsible for aerial photography and rapid assessment mapping of riparian vegetation. Chuck Nelson, Geographical Information Center, will compare riparian vegetation in a 1999 map with a new 2007 map, and provide data on the Web. Dave Wood, Biological Sciences, will analyze various river sites for habitat complexity.

Karen Holl at UC Santa Cruz will analyze riparian restoration as a function of landscape variables. Josh Viers at UC Davis will statistically validate the riparian map, and his colleague Eric Larsen will look at changes in the river’s shape. Fraser Schilling of UC Davis and Greg Golet at The Nature Conservancy will develop a “scorecard” of the Sacramento River’s ecological status and a monitoring plan for tracking the river’s status long term. The Sacramento River Conservation Area Forum will provide a venue for ongoing presentations and discussions about the project as it develops.

The resulting large-scale project uses new and existing data to evaluate the ecological status of the river. “Most of the previous research had been done in isolation, so it is pretty remarkable to pull together the different disciplines to really create what that snapshot is going to look like and how it’s defined,” said Cooper-Carter.

SRMAP will ultimately be a way to describe, simply and clearly, the ecological status of the river to resource managers and legislators. The “scorecard” will be a synthesis of the research that agencies and lawmakers can consider in formulating policies and programs affecting the river, said project manager Susan Strachan.

Receiving the grant was contingent on convincing the funding agency that the lead partner had the experience and expertise to administer SRMAP, and CSU, Chico was chosen to take this position. “We were the ones set up to manage a budget of this magnitude,” said Cooper-Carter, who has had years of grant administration experience as the project director of the Office of Environmental Programs for the College of Engineering and director of the Concrete Industry Management program. “The management of the project is going to be very, very complicated, and the implications for our university to be involved on this level are huge.”

“CSU, Chico has a history of working with CALFED through a number of different committees and has been the recipient of CALFED funding,” said Strachan. “This history is the primary reason CSU, Chico took the lead.”

Cooper-Carter wants to get the word out about the numerous research opportunities with SRMAP open to faculty in other disciplines. Biologists and engineers have clear roles in a river monitoring project, but SRMAP also involves the politics of cooperation between public agencies, private property rights, agriculture in a flood zone, and many other issues. “Just one of the many opportunities to get involved is in the political and legal challenges of identifying endangered species habitat on private property,” said Cooper-Carter.

“We are at the ground level of a project that could go so many different directions. There’s a role for many people, whether they are in political science or recreation or one of the many other disciplines across campus.”

Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications

For more information on the Sacramento River Monitoring and Assessment Project, contact Kristin Cooper-Carter (893-5751).