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.

Resilient Landscapes Program

Working with Nature to Foster Resilience

The Resilient Landscapes team develops innovative, long-range, nature-based strategies to improve the health of our shorelines, cities, and rural areas. RL work is organized in 7 focus areas:


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 [email protected].

Terrestrial Ecology focuses on landscape planning for wildlife, with an emphasis on producing practical scientific information to aid resource managers in making decisions that will optimize benefits for wildlife. Our goal is to provide input that will improve how restoration projects and planning efforts take into account and plan for the needs of wild animals and plants across the regional landscape and over time. Recent projects include landscape analyses of the ecological connectivity of habitats in eastern Marin County and development of wetland mercury biosentinel species to aid tidal marsh restoration planning.

For more information, please contact [email protected].

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 [email protected]

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 [email protected].


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. 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 [email protected].

The Urban Nature Lab at SFEI uses the quantitative science of nature in cities to guide innovative, ecologically-based urban planning and design. The Lab responds to the growing interest among planners, designers, policy-makers, and the public in gaining the diverse benefits nature can provide to urban communities, and the need for science-based design tools that draw from interdisciplinary research on cities. We bring together expertise in data science, ecology, ecosystem services, landscape architecture, and urban planning to create accessible, actionable guidance that makes the best available science available to those who need it.

The Urban Nature Lab helps cities create and support well-designed networks of nature that provide the critical functions we need from nature in our cities: reducing extreme heat, attenuating and purifying stormwater, improving physical and mental health, providing equitable access to nature and its benefits, and supporting local and regional biodiversity. We perform advanced data science analyses of land use, citizen science, health, census, and other data; synthesize emerging research from diverse fields; and collaborate with teams of design professionals to incorporate nature into projects, plans, and policies. We work closely through partnerships in the San Francisco Bay Area and around the world to advance the tools needed to create the healthy and resilient cities of the future.

For more information, please contact [email protected].


The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta supplies freshwater to a large portion of California’s cities and agriculture, supports an agricultural economy and culture, and is home to native wildlife found nowhere else in the world. This complex region is hampered by many environmental challenges, including an over-allocated water supply, invasive species, water quality problems, novel ecosystems that no longer support desired functions, aging infrastructure, and a complex management structure. Beyond these challenges, sea level rise, other impacts from climate change, and earthquakes pose significant risks to Delta ecosystems, agriculture and water supply. The Delta Science and Management Focus Area investigates the ecology, hydrology and geomorphology of the Delta to inform decision making in this complex environment. 

The three-part Delta Landscapes Project investigated the historical ecosystems of the Delta, examined how these ecosystems have been modified in the current landscape, and provided a holistic, aspirational approach to restoration. Building on this foundation, SFEI has contributed to multiple regional planning efforts and investigations of how the Delta supports specific functions, including primary production, salmon rearing habitat, and carbon storage. Our work from many of these projects is incorporated in the Delta Landscapes Scenario Planning Tool, a set of resources to assist users with developing, analyzing, and evaluating different land use scenarios to inform ongoing and future restoration planning efforts. 

For more information, please contact [email protected].

Projects Related to the Resilient Landscapes Program

Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Project

SFEI's Letitia Grenier served as lead scientist of the Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Project, which yielded a report called The Baylands and Climate Change: What We Can Do. The report is an update to the 1999 Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals, which for the first time set comprehensive restoration goals for the San Francisco Bay estuary. Produced by a collaborative of 21 management agencies working with a multi-disciplinary team of over 100 scientists, it synthesizes the latest science—particularly advances in the understanding of climate change and sediment supply—and incorporates projected changes through 2100 to generate new recommendations for achieving and sustaining healthy baylands ecosystems.

U.S. Coast Survey Maps of California (South Coast)

Until the advent of this new map viewer, a valuable resource was largely unavailable to coastal planners. Now, US Coastal Survey maps are free for broad use.

Upper Penitencia Creek: Resilient Landscape Vision

The San Francisco Estuary Institute-Aquatic Science Center and the Santa Clara Valley Water District worked with technical advisors and a group of local stakeholders to explore a range of multi-benefit management opportunities along Upper Penitencia Creek, culminating in this Resilient Landscape Vision. The vision focuses on ways to expand flow conveyance and flood water storage from the Coyote Creek confluence upstream to the Dorel Drive bridge in a manner that works with the existing landscape features and supports habitats for native species.

Upper Penitencia Creek: Historical Ecology Assessment

Upper Penitencia Creek, on the eastern side of Santa Clara Valley, has locally significant potential for stream restoration and anadromous fish recovery. The Upper Penitencia Creek Historical Ecology Assessment documents aspects of Upper Penitencia Creek's hydrogeomorphology and riparian ecology prior to major Euro-American modification. It describes the historical (ca. 1850) channel alignment, dry season hydrology, and riparian corridor of the creek as interpreted from early maps, textual records, and photographs.

Understanding Change in Primary Production at a Landscape Scale in the Delta

Constraints on primary production and the relative importance of different production sources to the food web remain major uncertainties in the Delta ecosystem. Newly available spatial data developed as part of the Delta Historical Ecology and Delta Landscapes projects make it possible to explore the effects of landscape configuration and hydrodynamics on primary production in a way that was not previously possible. Proposed order-of-magnitude calculations estimating primary production can ‘bookend’ the potential magnitude of production in the Delta, and inform what is possible in terms of restoration and management options.

Tijuana River Valley Historical Ecology Investigation

The Tijuana River Valley Historical Ecology Investigation synthesized hundreds of historical maps, photographs, and texts to reconstruct the the ecological, hydrological, and geomorphic conditions of the valley prior to major European-American landscape modification.

San Francisco Bay Shore Inventory

SFEI is developing an online interactive map to support regional planning and assessment given accelerated sea level rise around the Bay.

Russian River Watershed Projects at the San Francisco Estuary Institute

Our projects in the Russian River Watershed help us to understand our past, understand our present, and envision our future. Learn more about what SFEI is doing in partnership with others to advance our scientific understanding of this valuable landscape.

Design by Linda Wanczyk

RipZET: A GIS-based Tool for Estimating Riparian Zones

The Riparian Zone Estimator Tool (RipZET) is a decision support tool developed by the San Francisco Estuary Institute and Aquatic Science Center for the California Riparian Habitat Joint Venture and the California Water Resources Control Board to assist in the visualization and characterization of riparian areas in the watershed context.

Resilient Silicon Valley

Drawing on resilience science, regional data, and local expertise, we will develop the vision and tools that will allow stakeholders in the region ensure that local actions contribute toward the creation of a high-functioning and resilient Silicon Valley ecosystem.

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: 2020

Baumgarten S, Grossinger R, Bazo M, Benjamin M. Re-Oaking North Bay. Richmond, CA: San Francisco Estuary Institute; 2020 . Report No.: 947.  (20.51 MB) (1.83 MB)
Richey A, Dusterhoff SD, Baumgarten SA, Clark E, Benjamin M, Shaw S, et al.. Restoration Vision for the Laguna de Santa Rosa. Richmond, CA: SFEI; 2020 . Report No.: 983.  (29.19 MB)

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)

Where Our Resilient Landscapes Program Works