The funding required to reach current targeted conservation goals falls short of funding that is presently available. Accounting for conservation benefits from funds spent outside of explicit conservation is important if we are to effectively allocate available funding. Specifically, conservation benefits from land protected by ballot measures for open-space preservation should be taken into consideration. Average yearly spending on land conservation from ballot initiatives is comparable to major federal conservation programs (e.g. USDA Conservation Reserve Program). However, the funds generated from ballot measures are not transferrable across jurisdictions. Furthermore, open-space ballot measures may protect habitat, but may not offer the same conservation benefits as sites protected in other ways. The wider range of uses allowed on ballot protected sites may increase disturbance to the protected area, but any reduction in conferred conservation benefit has not yet been identified or quantified. We explore the conservation outcomes of ballot initiatives by comparing disturbance parameters on sites protected by California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), a state-level conservation organization, and open-space areas preserved by voting residents of municipalities in the central region of California.
We measured disturbance parameters including exotic herbaceous cover, abundance of litter, and number of site impacts per the California Native Plant Society Vegetation Rapid Assessment Protocol at 27 forested CDFW and 27 forested municipal sites across 15 counties in the fall of 2015. The mean percent exotic herbaceous cover was roughly 25% lower at ballot sites, although the maximum value was slightly higher for ballot sites (88 vs 80%). Both types of protected areas had sites with zero litter abundance, but CDFW sites had greater variation compared to ballot sites, 125 versus 87 for maximum number of pieces. Mean number of site impacts was marginally higher at ballot sites with a range from 2-9 impacts, CDFW sites ranged from 1-7 impacts. Some of the variation in disturbance can be can be explained by the total area of the protected areas and the distance to the nearest urban area. Both types of sites showed signs of disturbance, but they differed in terms of the levels and types of impacts that characterize them.