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Stream restoration efforts along the coast of Central California are unevenly distributed, with activity more likely to occur in areas that are more highly populated and dominated by residents who are "whiter, wealthier, and more educated," according to an analysis by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
In addition, coastal stream restoration is heavily concentrated in Santa Cruz, Morro Bay, and southern Santa Barbara County, creating "restoration deserts" with virtually no activity, said lead author Bronwen Stanford, a doctoral candidate in environmental studies.
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"Restoration projects were really unevenly distributed, and a lot of the Central Coast had no projects at all," said Stanford. "This disparity is troubling for social and ecological reasons. It begs the question, are we overlooking certain communities or certain types of ecological sites?"
Stanford's paper, "Where and why does restoration happen? Ecological and sociopolitical influences on stream restoration in Coastal California," appears in the May issue of Biological Conservation, which is online now.
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Stanford's study looked at 699 sites of publicly funded stream restoration projects between Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara counties that were completed between 1983 and 2017.
Stream restoration projects benefit ecosystems by improving fish habitat, water quality, and riparian habitat—the interface between land and rivers or streams. Human-oriented benefits include improved recreational access, flood protection, and educational outreach and training.
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Stanford's analysis found that restoration projects target many areas of ecological need. The presence of native fish was the biggest ecological factor driving the distribution of restoration sites, with steelhead present in 95 percent of sites. Water quality and riparian conditions were other environmental drivers.
On the social side, Stanford found that stream restoration occurred most frequently in a particular type of community: those with higher percentages of residents who are wealthy, non-Hispanic white, and have college degrees. Stanford identified three mechanisms that could explain the distribution pattern:
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