Environmental Management

, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 108–125

Governing Change: Land-Use Change and the Prevention of Nonpoint Source Pollution in the North Coastal Basin of California


    • Department of Geography and EnvironmentBoston University

DOI: 10.1007/s00267-011-9729-x

Cite this article as:
Short, A.G. Environmental Management (2013) 51: 108. doi:10.1007/s00267-011-9729-x


Many rural areas in the United States and throughout much of the postindustrial world are undergoing significant ecological, socioeconomic, and political transformations. The migration of urban and suburban dwellers into rural areas has led to the subdivision of large tracts of land into smaller parcels, which can complicate efforts to govern human–environmental problems. Non-point source (NPS) pollution from private rural lands is a particularly pressing human–environmental challenge that may be aggravated by changing land tenure. In this article, I report on a study of the governance and management of sediment (a common NPS pollutant) in the North Coastal basin of California, a region undergoing a transition from traditional extractive and agricultural land uses to rural residential and other alternative land uses. I focus on the differences in the governance and management across private timber, ranch, residential, vacation, and other lands in the region. I find that (1) the stringency and strength of sediment regulations differ by land use, (2) nonregulatory programs tend to target working landscapes, and (3) rural residential landowners have less knowledge of sediment control and report using fewer sediment-control techniques than landowners using their land for timber production or ranching. I conclude with an exploration of the consequences of these differences on an evolving rural landscape.


Amenity migrationEnvironmental governanceEnvironmental managementLand-use changeLand tenureNon-point source pollutionRural land use


During the past four decades, the migration of urban and suburban dwellers into rural areas of the United States and other postindustrial nations has dramatically transformed the rural landscape, placing development pressure on agricultural, forested, and open-space areas and often subdividing large tracts of land into smaller parcels. These changes in rural land tenure alter the social, political, and economic conditions in rural areas (Holmes 2006; Nelson 1992; Walker and Fortmann 2003) and may have profound effects on local ecosystems (Dale and others 2005; Hansen and others 2005; Miller and Hobbs 2002). The control of nonpoint source (NPS) pollution from rural private lands is a particularly pressing environmental challenge and may be exacerbated by changes in rural land use (Dale and others 2000).

NPS pollutants are the primary cause of water-quality impairments in the United States [United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) 2008]. Unlike point source pollution that comes from a “discernible, confined and discrete point,” NPS pollution comes from diffuse sources that may be numerous and unevenly dispersed across the landscape (CWA 1972, §502(14)). Pulses of NPS pollution occur sporadically, and the pathways from source to the site of pollution are difficult to trace. Due to the diffuse nature of NPS pollution, the monitoring and enforcement of any regulatory strategy is costly, and the effectiveness of any regulatory or nonregulatory intervention is difficult to measure. In areas undergoing changes in rural land use, regulatory and nonregulatory efforts to decrease NPS pollution also face emerging challenges associated with the changing landscape and an increasing number of landowners who have a wide range of attitudes, interests, and experiences.

In this article, I examine the challenge of NPS pollution in transitioning rural regions through an analysis of the governance and management of sediment (a common NPS pollutant) on private lands in the North Coastal basin of California. The research shows that the risk of sediment pollution is similar across all land uses but that governance and management of sediment pollution differ by land use. I argue that the differences in landowners’ management of sediment pollution stem from the disparities in the strength and application of regulations and nonregulatory programs across the land uses. The article begins with an overview of human–environment issues in transitioning rural regions. I then introduce the study area and describe the research approach and methods. I present the results and discuss their implications for the study and practice of pollution prevention and conservation in rural regions undergoing changes in land tenure and land use.

Human–Environment Issues in Transitioning Rural Regions

Fueled by an array of push and pull factors that range from the desire for access to recreational activities and natural amenities to agricultural decline and land-use planning policies that favor rural residential development (Duane 1999; Esparza and Carruthers 2000; Gosnell and Abrams 2009; Hansen and others 2002; Nelson 1992; Walker and others 2003), the rural “renaissance” (Shumway and David 1996) or “restructuring” (Nelson 2002) of many rural areas in the United States and other postindustrial countries has transformed the social, economic, political, and ecological conditions of these regions. Amenity, recreation-based, and service economies have supplemented or replaced more traditional natural resource and extractive economies (Rasker and Hansen 2000; Robbins and others 2009). In-migrants often hold attitudes, expectations, and values that differ from those of longer-term residents (Duane 1999; Gosnell and others 2006; Walker and Fortmann 2003). Although the degree of cultural difference between longer-term and newer residents may be may be less dramatic than often depicted (Smith and Krannich 2000), in-migration has generated conflict over economic and environmental issues (Walker and Fortmann 2003) and changed local norms that affect resource access and regional natural-resource management (Haggerty and Travis 2006; Yung and Belsky 2007).

Property sales and subdivision are accompanied by shifts in the way the parcel is configured, used, and managed. A single parcel once used for timber production or grazing may be subdivided and converted to dozens of residential units, each bringing the potential for new buildings, gardens, roads, pets, and other changes that cumulatively can affect the structure and function of ecosystems at multiple scales. Rural residential development has been found to increase habitat fragmentation and edge effects (Radeloff and others 2005; Walker and others 2003) and to have nonlinear impacts on species composition, decreasing the survival of native species and increasing the survival of nonnative species (Hansen and others 2002, 2005; Maestas and others 2003). Dale and others (2005) also note that rural residential development can lead to changes in biogeochemical cycles by way of changes in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and that changes in vegetation structure and composition can alter disturbance regimes, such as fire, floods, and wind events.

Changes in rural land tenure are not always associated with subdivision (Gosnell and others 2006). Even when parcels stay intact and retain the same primary use (e.g., “hobby farms”), new styles of management often accompany new ownership. Newer and longer-term landowners have been found to manage their land differently, reflecting different goals and knowledge about conservation practices (Gosnell and others 2006; Mendham and Curtis 2010). Despite these differences in management, ecological outcomes are not predictable—both newer and longer-term landowners have been found to engage in land-management practices associated with environmental benefits as well as potentially negative ecological outcomes (Gosnell and others 2007). Although newer landowners may express strong environmental values, Mendham and Curtis (2010) found that their knowledge and use of conservation-management practices may not align with their stated values. Gill and others (2010) found that newer landowners have varying degrees of knowledge and use a range of different management practices that are “influenced not only by their land-use aspirations and values, but also by the nature and state of the land they buy, by their neighbours, and by their personal, financial and family circumstances” (p. 331). Similarly, several researchers point out that neither newer landowners nor longer-term landowners form a homogenous group and that substantial differences in management practices and knowledge exist within both newer and longer-term landowners (Gill and others 2010; Siegel 1996; Walker and others 2003).

In addition to the social, economic, and biophysical factors suggested by Gill and others (2010), environmental governance can influence individual land-management practices. Environmental governance refers to the set of rules, processes, and organizations through which actors influence human–environment interactions and shape environmental outcomes. It encompasses legal regulatory controls as well as nonregulatory programs administered by government and nongovernmental actors. Governance and changes in land tenure are linked in multiple ways. Changing ownership can alter local politics and planning process (Walker and Fortmann 2003; Walker and Hurley 2004). Land-use and ownership change also affect the biophysical conditions that are the object or goal of governing programs and can shift the reach and function of regulations and nonregulatory programs. For example, Klepeis and others (2009) find that the existing regulatory structure for managing invasive species is unable to address the challenges of changing ownership in Windellama, Australia. Gosnell and others (2007) also suggest that the regulatory structure is unable to address the changing range of management practices affecting fisheries in the rapidly changing Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. In that same region, Haggerty and Travis (2006) show that changes in land tenure decrease the influence of natural resource agency staff on elk management. In this study, I extend this work by examining the dynamic relation of land-tenure change, environmental governance, and individual land-management practices and considering the implications of these relations at the regional scale.

Study Context: Sediment Pollution and Control in the North Coastal Basin

Located along the northern coast of California and contained primarily within Humboldt and Mendocino counties, the North Coastal basin covers an area of 5.5 million acres (2.2 million ha; Fig. 1). Similar to many other rural regions across the United States, land uses and the economic base of the North Coastal basin have been slowly evolving for the past four decades. Fueled by the “back to the land” movement, the subdivision of larger parcels for rural residential development began in the late 1960s. Although much of the land is still held in large tracts of land owned by industrial timber companies or public agencies, there is a slow but noticeable pressure to subdivide and sell large forested and ranch parcels (Eilperin 2006; Harris and Kocher 1998). This development is shifting land uses from traditional resource and agricultural land uses to a more diverse mix that also includes residential, amenity-based, and alternative land uses. The economy is now dominated by tourism and recreation; timber production; commercial and sport fishing; mining; ranching, vineyards, and other agricultural activities; and the legal and illegal cultivation of marijuana [see Short (2010) for a discussion of the environmental and governance issues associated with marijuana production].
Fig. 1

North Coastal Basin of California. The dividing lines within the study basin show the boundaries of the watersheds included in this study. Maps created by Anita Milman and Anne Short

The basin has six major rivers and many smaller streams that provide habitat for threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead trout. The primary water-quality issue in the region is sediment pollution. Sedimentation is a natural process through which soil erosion enters a stream channel. Human activities (e.g., agriculture, construction activities, dams, grazing, resource extraction, road construction and use) can change the rate of sedimentation in a watercourse. Excess sediment degrades habitat for salmon and other aquatic organisms (USEPA 1999b). The steep terrain and geology of the North Coastal basin make rivers in the region particularly susceptible to sedimentation (Suttle and others 2004), and sediment pollution is pervasive.

Dirt and gravel roads have been identified as one of the major sources of sediment pollution in the North Coastal basin [California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection 2006; Kramer and others 2001; North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB) 2006; USEPA 1999b]. According to sediment source analyses conducted in watersheds degraded by sediment, roads (including roads and skid trails used in timber harvests as well as other public and private roads) have contributed between 21 and 98% of the human-induced sediment loads (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2

Anthropogenic sediment loads in watersheds impaired by sediment in the North Coastal Basin. Note 1: The sediment source analyses use empirical data, aerial photography, and sediment models to estimate sediment loads from anthropogenic and background sources. The methods and models, as well as the assumptions and data underlying the models, differ between source analyses, so direct comparisons of loadings between watersheds should not be made. Despite this limitation, the estimates give a sense of the degree to which sediment from roads dominates the anthropogenic loading in impaired streams. Note 2: The “Roads” category includes loading from roads and skid trails across all land uses. The “Timber” category includes activities associated with timber harvest (except roads and skid trails, which are accounted for in the previous category). The “Other” category includes a variety of other sources (e.g., grazing, homestead, railroad, vineyard). Compiled from data in the Total Maximum Daily Load Sediment Source Analysis (USEPA) documentation for each impaired watershed (USEPA 1998a, b, 1999a, c, d, 2000a, b, 2001a, b, 2003a, b, 2004, 2005, 2007)

The site conditions, as well as the design, use, and management of dirt and gravel roads, affect the potential for sediment delivery from a particular road segment. The factors affecting sedimentation from roads include native soil texture, composition and depth of surface material (Luce and Black 1999; Wemple and Jones 2003), weather (Luce and Wemple 2001), the slope of the road (Luce and Black 1999), the location or configuration of the road on the hillslope (Jones and others 2000; Wemple and Jones 2003; Wemple and others 2001), the design of ditches and drainage systems (Luce and Wemple 2001), traffic patterns (Reid and Dunne 1984), and weather patterns after construction and maintenance (Luce and Black 1999).

Although not all road-related erosion is preventable (McCashion and Rice 1983), the use of pollution-control measures, known as best-management practices (BMPs), in the design, construction, use, maintenance, and closure of roads can decrease the likelihood of sediment delivery associated with rural roads (Table 1). A variety of regulatory and nonregulatory programs require and/or promote the use of BMPs to decrease sediment pollution from private roads within the basin.
Table 1

Guiding principles for sediment-control BMPs for roads and specific BMPs queried in the mail survey

BMP category

Guiding principles

BMPs queried in survey

Planning, construction, and management

• Minimize disturbance area of the road network

• Avoid steep slopes, unstable areas, and (where possible) watercourses

• Minimize stream crossings

• Ensure that road drainage is not connected to a watercourse

• Obtain water off the road surface as quickly as possible without concentrating drainage

• Identify high erosion risk

• Identify unstable areas

• Inventory sediment delivery sites

• Develop written road-management plan

• Develop written erosion-control plan

• Limit road construction to stable areas

• Ensure fish passage when constructing and maintaining watercourse crossings

• Outslope roads

• Deposit construction waste away from streams

• Plant vegetation on cutslopes or fillslopes

• Use rolling dips

• Use erosion-control measures

Inspection and maintenance

• Inspect and maintain roads and drainage structures frequently

• Inspect roads and drainage structures at least once annually (preferably twice annually and before and after all large storms)

Design and use

• Ensure that road design and surface material matches intended use-patterns for the road

• Avoid using roads during the wet season

• Use rocked or other protective surface on roads used during the wet season


In this study, I analyzed the governance and management of sediment pollution across different land uses in the basin. The research design is based on an institutional analysis approach, which explicitly acknowledges that the “rules in form,” i.e., the legal regulations and policies that exist on paper, often differ from the “rules in use,” i.e., the conventions, norms, and rules of society in operation on the ground (Ostrom 1999), and places emphasis on understanding the ecological outcomes associated with the “rules in use” (Imperial and Yandle 2005) as well as the authority that influences whether “rules in form are “enforced, respected, resisted, or subverted” (Robbins 1998, p. 410).

The objectives of this study were to (1) understand if and how governing programs (including regulations and nonregulatory programs) influence landowners’ knowledge about and adoption of BMPs for sediment control; (2) assess if and how the governing programs and landowners’ knowledge about and adoption of BMPs differ across the range of land uses (including working with timber, nontimber ranching, primary residence, vacation home, and other); and (3) examine the ecological implications of differences in sediment governance and management across land use in the context of changing land ownership and land use in the basin. To do so, the study included a mail survey of private landowners in the basin: semistructured interviews with 56 private landowners and 30 staff-persons at government agencies and organizations, nonprofit organizations, and private consultants as well as document review.

The mail survey collected data about landowners’ familiarity with BMPs, self-reported BMP adoption, land use and ownership history, and several additional variables that could be linked to BMP adoption and knowledge (e.g., regulatory experience, use of technical and financial assistance). The survey sample was drawn from a database containing information on parcels and landowners in Humboldt and Mendocino counties. The sample was stratified by watershed and parcel size class (10–39 acres, 40–159 acres, 160–599 acres, and ≥600 acres), and 1293 survey recipients were randomly selected. The questionnaire was pretested, revised, and mailed to survey recipients in accordance with the Tailored Design Method (Dillman 2007). Of the 1293 mailed surveys, 40 were returned undeliverable, and 17 were disqualified due to duplication because the recipient was deceased or did not own the property, leaving an effective sample size of 1235 surveys presumed to be delivered and valid. Of the surveys, 459 were returned and usable, giving an effective response rate of 37.2%. The response rate was equivalent across counties, watershed, and parcel size classes.

Interviews with landowners and professionals elicited further information about BMP knowledge and adoption as well as evidence of the mechanisms through which regulations and nonregulatory programs influence BMP knowledge and adoption across difference land uses. Respondents for the landowner interviews were randomly selected from the population of survey respondents stratified by watershed and classes of parcel sizes and included landowners engaging in a wide range of land uses. The other interview respondents were selected to represent the key agencies and nongovernmental organizations involved in sediment prevention and control. Most interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. For respondents who preferred not to be audio-recorded, detailed notes were taken during the interview, and a rough transcription was produced immediately after the interview. All interview data was coded and analyzed for common themes (per Creswell 2003; Weiss 1994) using TAMS Analyzer, a software package for qualitative analysis (Weinstein 2009).

For analysis of survey and interview data, respondents were grouped and compared across land-use categories (Table 2). This is a departure from the more common practice of contrasting “newer” and “longer-term” landowners (e.g., Gosnell and others 2007; Mendham and Curtis 2010). In the North Coastal basin, length of ownership (defined as the number of years the parcel has been owned by the current landowner or the landowners’ family) is correlated with land use. “Newer” landowners who acquired their parcel during or after the wave of in-migration (1970 or later) are more likely to use their land for residential or vacation purposes than “longer-term” landowners who acquired their land before 1970 (Fig. 3). However, there is diversity of land uses in both groups: Some “newer” landowners use their land for commercial timber production or nontimber ranching, and some “longer-term” landowners use their land for vacation or primary residences. Grouping by land use more accurately reflects the diversity within the “newer” and “longer-term” groups and allows a more direct investigation of the ways that regulations and nonregulatory programs (which differ by land use as discussed later in the text) are related to landowners’ knowledge and adoption of BMPs.
Table 2

Land-use categories

Working with timber (parcel used for commercial timber production): The parcel may also be used for other commercial agriculture or grazing activities and the landowner may or may not live on the parcel (survey: N = 128; interview: N = 21)

Nontimber ranch (parcel is used for commercial agriculture and/or ranching): The landowner may or may not live on the parcel (survey: N = 40; interview: N = 4)

Primary residence (parcel is used as the primary residence of landowner and is not used to generate income) (survey: N = 108; interview: N = 13)

Vacation home (parcel is used as a second or vacation home for the landowner and is not used to generate income): (survey: N = 71; interview: N = 6)

Other (parcel does not fall into any of the above categories): Common “other” circumstances include absentee landowners, landowners who have plans to develop or otherwise use their property but have not yet done so, landowners holding their land for conservation or recreation purposes, and respondents who did not disclose their primary land uses (survey: N = 112; interview: N = 12)

Fig. 3

Distribution of land uses for newer and longer-term survey respondents

Road Networks and Sediment Pollution Across Land Uses in the North Coastal Basin

Sediment pollution and the associated degradation of habitat for salmon is one of the most important and widespread environmental issues in the North Coastal basin. All of the fish-bearing streams in the basin provide habitat for salmon or steelhead trout listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act or the California Endangered Species Act, and approximately 85% of the land area in the basin drains into a watercourse that has been designated as impaired by excess sediment. As described previously, dirt and gravel roads are a major source of sediment pollution, and the potential for sediment delivery from roads is associated with their patterns of use and the maintenance, construction, and restoration.

Roads are required to access and navigate property regardless of land use, and the potential to generate sediment pollution associated with roads is thus common across all land uses. The majority (90.9%) of survey respondents have roads on their property, and many have recently constructed or reconstructed parts of their road network. During the 5 years prior to the survey, 46.8% of survey respondents constructed a segment of new road, and 67.8% of respondents installed or replaced a stream crossing. These values did not vary significantly across land uses, indicating that road building and reconstruction activities are common across all land uses.

Survey respondents across all land-use categories reported that they had encountered road-related challenges that could be associated with sediment delivery sites in the 5 years before the survey. Approximately three fifths of the survey respondents (58.8%) reported such problems, and the prevalence of this self-reported indicator of potential sediment delivery did not vary significantly across land uses represented in the survey. This suggests that roads have the potential to be sources of excess sediment regardless of the land use associated with the road.

Governance of Sediment Across Land Uses in the North Coastal Basin

A wide variety of government, nonprofit, and private organizations are involved in the governance of sediment from private lands in the North Coastal basin. Government actors come from all levels of government and include regulatory as well as nonregulatory government agencies (e.g., Resource Conservation Districts, University of California Cooperative Extension). Nonprofit organizations include grassroots or community-based watershed groups and nonprofits that operate at the county, basin, or state level. Private actors include registered professional foresters working under the California Forest Practice Act (FPA), private consultants specializing in road management and sediment control, road and neighborhood associations, and individual citizens. These organizations work independently and in tandem to regulate and/or implement nonregulatory programs that provide incentives or information to encourage private landowners to implement sediment-control BMPs on their roads. The following sections outline the primary regulatory and nonregulatory approaches for the prevention and control of road-related sediment and analyze how these differ across land uses.

Regulations to Decrease and Control Road-Related Sediment Pollution

Sediment regulations associated with roads are triggered by the initiation of particular activities, such as the construction of new roads, replacement or upgrading of stream crossings, subdivision of large parcels, and timber harvests. The regulatory requirements and processes vary depending on the nature of the regulated activity and can include permitting processes and/or the prescription of BMPs for the regulated activities. The regulations differ between Humboldt and Mendocino counties, across land uses and watersheds, and for areas designated as habitat for endangered species (Table 3). In other words, the regulatory controls on road construction and management activities are linked to the location of the road and/or the associated land use rather than strictly on the potential for sediment delivery.
Table 3

Sediment-control regulations and land use

Land use

Regulated activities


Regulatory authority


• Installation of new stream-crossing

• Alteration or replacement of existing stream crossing

California Fish and Game Code §1600: Lakebed and Stream Alteration Agreement

Clean Water Act §404


United States Army Corps of Engineers

All in Humboldt County

• Construction of new road

Grading ordinance

Humboldt County

All that may affect habitat of endangered or threatened salmonids

• Construction of new road that may affect salmonid habitat

• Installation of new stream-crossing that may affect salmonid habitat

• Alteration or replacement of existing stream crossing that may affect salmonid habitat

Endangered Species Act §10(a): incidental take permit

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service

All in Garcia watershed

• Construction of new road

• Installation of new stream-crossing

• Alteration or replacement of existing stream crossing

• Use, maintenance, reconstruction, and decommissioning of existing roads

Garcia Action Plan


Parcels undergoing “major” subdivision

• Construction of new roads

• Alteration and reconstruction of existing road network

Subdivision Map Act

Local planning authority


• Construction of new road

• Installation of new stream-crossing

• Alteration or replacement of existing stream crossing

• Use, maintenance, reconstruction, and decommissioning of existing roads

California FPA and FPR

California Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act; Water Quality Control Plan for the North Coast Region



The only road-related activities that are regulated across all land uses throughout the North Coastal basin are the installation, alteration, and replacement of stream crossings (such as bridges and culverts). Under the Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement program, these activities require approval of project plans by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG). The project plans must include a description of the project and an assurance that no unmitigated harm to water quality or fish will result from the project. Through the review process, CDFG inspectors may require the use of particular BMPs.

The construction of new roads is regulated across all nontimber land uses in Humboldt County. The Humboldt County Grading Ordinance stipulates that landowners constructing new roads must obtain a permit and county approval of project plans. Landowners constructing new roads for use in a state-approved timber harvest plan are exempt from these requirements because they are already regulated through the California FPA (as discussed later in the text). There are no equivalent countywide controls in Mendocino County despite several attempts to pass a grading ordinance during the past three decades.

The construction and reconstruction of road networks associated with the subdivision of larger parcels into multiple, smaller parcels is regulated under the California Subdivision Map Act. The Subdivision Map Act requires local planning authorities to review plans for all “major” subdivisions of five or more new lots and specifically requires attention to “proper grading and erosion control, including the prevention of sedimentation or damage to offsite property,” although no specific BMPs are mandated (Subdivision Map Act §66411). The review process must comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, and the planning authority can approve the subdivision as planned, approve with mitigation measures (which could include BMPs for road construction), or deny the subdivision. Although the developer must still submit subdivision plans to the local planning authority, “minor” subdivisions of two to four new parcels do not require a review process.

More comprehensive requirements apply to management activities associated with new and existing roads in sensitive habitat and some impaired watersheds. In critical habitat for threatened or endangered species, the federal Endangered Species Act mandates that landowners must obtain incidental take permits for activities (the construction and reconstruction of roads and stream crossings may require such permits) that may harm the species of concern. The use of particular BMPs for roads can be conditions for an incidental take permit.

Roads in the Garcia Watershed are also subject to more comprehensive sediment-control regulations. Located in the southern portion of Mendocino County, the Garcia Watershed is designated as sediment impaired and the NCWQCB has promulgated special regulatory requirements, known as the Garcia Action Plan, to decrease sediment pollution. The Garcia Action Plan requires all landowners in the Garcia watershed to prepare and implement a road-management plan that describes potential sources of sediment and the management actions they will take to prevent delivery of sediment to streams.

Roads used for timber harvests throughout the entire basin are more stringently regulated than roads associated with other land uses both in the scope of the activities that trigger regulations and in the standards that apply. The California FPA and Forest Practice Rules (FPR) stipulate BMPs for the use, inspection, maintenance, and reconstruction of existing roads and stream crossings; the construction of new roads and stream crossings; and the decommissioning of roads no longer used. The specifications for BMPs under the FPA are stricter than the standards in most local ordinances (Harris and Cafferata 2005). In addition, state and regional water-quality legislation (the California Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act and the Water Quality Control Plan for the North Coast Region) prohibits sediment discharge associated with timber harvesting. Before harvesting, timber landowners must obtain a discharge permit from the NCRWQCB for sediment and prepare an erosion control plan that assesses potential sediment delivery sites and outlines a plan to remedy sediment sources associated with existing roads and stream crossings.

Regulatory Differences Across Land Uses

The formal regulatory requirements for timber roads are more comprehensive and stringent than those that apply to other land uses. In addition to more stringent standards for the construction of new roads, timber harvest regulations also mandate the use of BMPs for the design, maintenance, use, and reconstruction of existing roads. Many of the roads in the North Coastal basin were constructed to lower standards several decades ago when there was less knowledge about the deleterious effects of sediment delivery. Timber regulations provide a mechanism to mitigate sediment delivery from some of these older roads.

Most regulatory requirements for nontimber roads are limited to new roads or construction work on stream crossings, leaving the egregious sediment problems of older roads not used in timber harvests mostly out of the purview of sediment regulations. Although the Subdivision Map Act mandates a review process that could alleviate sedimentation associated with older roads in new subdivisions, its reach in the North Coastal basin is somewhat limited. “Minor” subdivisions (into four or fewer new parcels) are exempt from the review process, and the act contains a grandfathering clause that permits the subdivision of parcels to occur without review if the landowner can prove that parcel is comprised of smaller historic parcels with divisions that date back before 1893 (Fulton and Shigley 2005). Because many large parcels in the basin were originally assembled from smaller parcels, historic parcels predating 1893 are common as is use of this loophole. This grandfathering and the exemption of “minor” subdivisions decrease local control over road-related sediment associated with local development. In addition, my interviews suggest that illegal and unreported subdivisions are common throughout Mendocino and Humboldt counties.

The disparity in the formal regulatory controls on sediment pollution from timberlands and other land uses is compounded by differences in the monitoring and enforcement of the regulations. The regulatory controls on roads used in timber harvests fall within the broader statewide system for the regulation of timber harvests, which provides the regulatory infrastructure for the monitoring and enforcement of sediment regulations on timber roads. Under the FPA and FPR, landowners planning to harvest timber must submit a timber harvest plan or a nonindustrial timber harvest plan that contains details about the harvest as well as plans for mitigating any environmental effects (including sediment pollution) that could be associated with the harvest. The harvest plan must be prepared by a registered professional forester and undergoes a multistep review process by regulators from several agencies. The review process includes an on-site preharvest inspection with the landowner, the forester, and staff from several resource agencies. Within 6 months of the completion of the harvest, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) is required to conduct an on-site postharvest inspection. Other agencies may also conduct their own postharvest inspections. The FPA provides the process to monitor and enforce sediment-control regulations on timberlands, which builds a strong impetus for compliance through the adoption of BMPs.

In addition to regulatory inspections and monitoring, individual citizens and nonprofit groups can also play a role in ensuring that the standards for sediment control are upheld on timberlands. All information associated with timber harvest plans is publicly available, and the review process has a mandatory public comment period. Many of the community-based watershed groups I interviewed see themselves as watchdogs over the timber industry and frequently review and comment on harvest plans in their watershed. Several larger nonprofit organizations also act as watchdogs on the timber industry (e.g., the Environmental Protection Information Center, a regional environmental nonprofit based in Southern Humboldt, and the Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters, a San Francisco based nonprofit organization focused on the protection of North Coast redwoods). These organizations review and comment on harvest plans, perform postproject monitoring when possible, and take legal action when they believe there are violations.

In contrast to the extensive monitoring and enforcement network for timber regulations, the monitoring and enforcement of road regulations for nontimber land uses is essentially nonexistent. Although the survey results show that both timber and nontimber landowners are likely to engage in regulated activities, such as constructing new roads and replacing stream crossings, nontimber landowners do not fear enforcement or feel strong pressure to comply with the applicable regulations. As one Humboldt County landowner explained, “We don’t really see regulators unless we invite them” (interview with landowner no. 11928 on October 14, 2008). Regulatory enforcement is complaint driven rather than a response to inspection and monitoring by agency staff. Most government offices and agencies do not have sufficient enforcement staff to cover their entire region. For example, Humboldt County has a single code enforcement officer for the entire county, and the NCRWQCB has only four staffed enforcement positions to oversee all water-quality regulations throughout the entire North Coast region (which includes the study basin and the larger Klamath River basin). With thousands of miles of roads dispersed across the landscape and so few enforcement staff, comprehensive on the ground monitoring is unrealistic.

Agency response to noncompliant road building and reconstruction on nontimber roads occurs mostly in response to citizen tips and complaints about noncompliance. However, such complaints are rare. Because roads are on private property, there are few opportunities for interested citizens to legally access private roads and, except in cases where there is animosity between neighbors, landowners in the region do not frequently interfere in the management decisions of their neighbors. Nontimber landowners’ perception of the risk of agency or citizen enforcement of existing regulations is well-represented by the following observation about enforcement:

The county doesn’t have any resources. They can’t even enforce the building codes. And the community really minds its own business. No one can afford to stick their neck out. (Interview with landowner no. 11211 on August 25, 2008.)

Overall, nontimber landowners express little concern about enforcement, and some are not even aware of their regulatory responsibilities under the Humboldt County grading ordinance or the Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement program. Even in the Garcia watershed in southern Mendocino County, where the Garcia Action Plan mandates standards for all roads, nontimber landowners expressed little awareness about these regulatory responsibilities. None of the 14 survey respondents who own nontimber property in the Garcia watershed indicated that they had completed an erosion control plan as mandated by the Garcia Action Plan (although 3 of the 8 survey respondents with timberlands in the Garcia watershed do have an approved erosion control plan).

The limited formal monitoring and enforcement of regulations, the paucity of citizen complaints, the difficulty in assessing or viewing management activities in the more remote parts of the region, and the erroneous assumption that regulatory requirements do not apply to certain common practices all create the perception that most sediment-control regulations are weak or irrelevant off of timberlands.

Nonregulatory Programs to Decrease and Control Road-Related Sediment Pollution

Nonregulatory efforts to decrease sediment pollution on private lands provide incentives or access to information to encourage private landowners to implement sediment-control BMPs on their roads. These programs employ a range of informal and formal actions and tools to implement them. Informal actions include unfunded and grassroots activities, such as workdays organized by a group of neighbors sharing a road. Formal nonregulatory approaches can be grouped into four categories: technical assistance, financial assistance, project implementation, and other activist actions.

The technical-assistance category encompasses efforts to disseminate information about the sediment pollution problem and BMPs that can address the problem, including public education campaigns and individual assistance. The goal is to provide landowners with the knowledge needed to implement improved road-management practices. In the North Coastal basin, government, nonprofit organizations, and private consultants provide a variety of technical assistance, including guidance documents and management guides, workshops and courses, site visits, and individual advice.

Financial-assistance programs include grant and cost-share programs that provide funding for watershed assessment projects, education and outreach, and the implementation of BMPs and restoration projects on private lands and roads in the region. The majority of these programs are publicly funded through sources authorized by federal environmental legislation (e.g., CWA 1972, §319(h), the Nonpoint Source Implementation Grant Program), California Senate Bills (e.g., SB 271, which created the Salmon and Steelhead Trout Restoration Account), and voter-approved propositions (e.g., Proposition 50, which created the Integrated Regional Water Management Grant). Depending on the program stipulations, the funds may be distributed directly to private landowners or indirectly by way of other government organizations, nonprofit groups, private consultants, or road associations.

Project implementation encompasses programs that conduct sediment-source assessments and/or directly implement BMPs and restoration projects on private property. The project design, acquisition of funding, and implementation are completed entirely by a nonprofit organization, government agency or organization, or road association (although the private landowner may have responsibility for maintenance after completion of the project).

The final category of nonregulatory actions includes other advocacy and activist actions, such as watchdog activities that may lead to complaints or litigation regarding regulatory violations, reviewing and commenting on regulatory processes, and lobbying for more stringent regulations. A wide variety of watershed-based, regional, statewide, and national nonprofit organizations are involved in these activities.

Nonregulatory Influence Across Land Uses

The nonregulatory infrastructure is better suited to provide assistance to more traditional timber and nontimber ranching landowners than newer residential, vacation, and other landowners. With the exception of a few project-implementation programs, nonregulatory programs have more interaction with and effect on timber, ranching, and agricultural landowners than on residential, vacation, and other landowners. Survey respondents with nontimber ranchlands or timberlands were significantly more likely to have used technical assistance resources than those using their land for residential, vacation, and other purposes (Table 4). This is unsurprising given the historic orientation of those providing technical assistance.
Table 4

Relation of land use and use of nonregulatory assistance

Respondents (%)


Working with timber

Nontimber ranch

Primary residence

Vacation home


Who received professional technical assistance (N = 459;P < 0.001)a







Who received financial assistance (N = 459; P = NS)







aSignificance was determined with chi-square test

Education resources, workshops, and outreach efforts use information networks that have been historically associated with the ranching, timber-producing, and agricultural communities. For example, two of the key organizations providing technical assistance about road management are the county Resource Conservation Districts (RCD) and the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) offices. Although the RCD and UCCE make their services available to all landowners, their historic focus is on assisting agricultural and timber landowners, and they continue to be viewed mainly as resources for those groups of landowners. This focus can be seen in the location of the Humboldt RCD offices: One is located in the county agricultural center, and the other is located in a small ranching and dairy town. The location in agricultural centers reinforces the perception that these organizations serve timber and ranching landowners and decreases the likelihood of chance encounters that could change those perceptions.

Financial-assistance programs are also tailored to landowners with working landscapes. Several of the major financial-assistance programs available for sediment-reduction projects on rural roads are explicitly targeted at agricultural and forest landowners. More than a third of the financial assistance received by survey respondents came from these types of programs: the CAL FIRE California Forest Improvement Program, Natural Resource Conservation Services Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and other grant or cost-share funds administered by county RCDs. In addition, logistical barriers are associated with the provision of grant funding to residential, vacation, and other properties, which tend to be smaller than timber or nontimber ranching properties. In interviews, staff at grant-funding natural resource agencies showed that they often prefer working with large landowners because it decreases the transaction costs associated with coordinating multiple landowners. Several grant programs will not take on the coordination burden and require smaller residential landowners to apply for funding through a nonprofit organization or as a road association.

Despite this focus on timber and ranching land uses, survey respondents’ use of financial assistance was not significantly associated with land use (Table 4). However, the survey data lumps funding obtained directly by the landowner with funds from project implementation programs (which do not require landowners to actively seek out funds), and this may mask more subtle differences in the types of financial assistance used by different groups of landowners.

Community-based watershed groups are well positioned to provide nonregulatory assistance to residential, amenity, and other landowners. However, my interviews with representatives of nine community-based watershed groups working in the basin showed that most of their efforts are focused on working lands through watchdog activities, lobbying for increased regulation, restoration projects, and/or outreach. Of the nine watershed based groups, two were formed by landowners with working landscapes and focus on restoration and sediment mitigation on those working landscapes; five are composed of residential members and focus on addressing the effects of timber production in their watersheds; and only two were formed by residential members and focus on mitigating the effects of residential as well as working land uses. This is representative of the general bias toward working landscapes.

Sediment Management Across Land Uses in the North Coastal Basin

“As a rancher and timberland owner, I am a good steward of the land. We have operated here for four generations. The big problems are the small 5- to 10-acre house lots. They have poor-quality roads. Most ranchers take care of their own property with their equipment.” (Anonymous comment from landowner written on mail survey.)

As the previous quote suggests, many ranchers and timberland owners point to roads on smaller rural residential and vacation properties as having some of the most egregious erosion problems and claim that the poor quality of these roads is linked to poor management practices. Although these claims can be motivated by the desire to turn regulatory attention away from ranch and timberlands, they are supported by road assessments in the region; anecdotal evidence from staff at natural resource agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private consultancies; and the results of the mail survey and interviews, which queried knowledge about BMPs and the self-reported use of BMPs.
One residential landowner I interviewed had worked with a local watershed group for several years in the early 2000s. In this position, he was trained by professional consultants and staff at regulatory agencies to assess the sediment risks associated with roads. He inventoried road-related sediment risks on two timber-producing ranches and two residential subdivisions that were subdivided into 70 to 80 parcels in the 1970s and explained his experiences as follows:

“I did road inventories and assessments of two big ranches and two subdivisions. The subdivisions are nightmares, although the ranchers have had to obtain to the CDF [California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, now known as CAL FIRE] standards because of the logging. There’s a lot of petty squabbling with a lot of road associations. Ours is okay because we have legal power to take action if someone doesn’t pay but on [one of the assessed subdivisions], the roads were absolutely terrible and sometimes impassable because no one pays or cares to maintain them. (Interview with landowner no. 11211 on August 25, 2008.)

Later in that interview, I asked that same landowner and watershed group employee if he thought landowners impacted the environment. He responded:

I think there are two categories: large ranches, which have a positive effect, and subdivisions, which have a negative effect. Subdivisions have an extensive road system and they don’t pay attention to the drainage and don’t think of erosion as a problem. To them, the only problem with erosion is it makes big ruts and you can’t drive fast on the roads. (interview with landowner no. 11211 on August 25, 2008.)

Gayle Garman, an environmental scientist working on the CDFG Northern Region Coho Recovery program, also noted that some rural residential roads pose a risk for sedimentation due to improper design or maintenance. She explained:

We find that some of the roads in rural residential developments are important sources of sediment delivery to streams. These roads often were built in past decades, before the standard of practice included knowledge of culvert capacity or fail-safe design. In many cases these roads and their stream crossings are not maintained often enough to catch problems before they become expensive to fix. (Interview with Gayle Garman [CDFG] on November 24, 2008.)

The observations of the landowner and Garman represent the general perception of the management and quality of rural residential and vacation roads relative to that of timber and ranching roads. Although there are certainly a range of roads and management practices within each category of land uses, data from the survey and interviews support this perception. As discussed later in the text, timber and nontimber ranching landowners generally have more knowledge about the relation between roads and sediment pollution and more actively use BMPs to guide the use, maintenance, and construction of their roads than do landowners using their land for residential, vacation, and other purposes.

Familiarity with BMPs and Knowledge About Sediment Pollution

A rough measure of landowners’ familiarity with BMPs recommended for the planning, construction, and management was calculated using survey data. The mail survey collected information about respondents’ adoption of 12 BMPs for the planning, construction, and management of roads (Table 1). For each of the BMPs, respondents were asked to indicate if they already engaged in that practice, might engage in that practice, would never engage in that practice, did not know about that BMP, or if the BMP was not applicable to their land. The metric for survey respondents’ familiarity with BMPs was calculated by taking the ratio of the number of BMPs the landowner “knows” to the number of BMPs applicable for their land as follows:
$$\left(1- \left[ {{\text{no}} .\,{\text{don't}}\,{\text{know}}/\left( {{\text{no}} .\,{\text{BMPs}}-{\text{no}} .\,{\text{not}}\,{\text{applicable}}} \right)} \right] \right). $$
Survey respondents reported that they were familiar with an average of 85% of applicable BMPs. The level of familiarity varied significantly by land use. Timber and nontimber ranching landowners were familiar with a higher percentage of applicable BMPs than those using their land for residential, vacation, or other purposes (Table 5).
Table 5

Relation between land use and landowners’ adoption and knowledge of BMPs



Working with timber

Nontimber ranch

Primary residence

Vacation home


Mean % BMPs with which respondents are familiar (N = 389; P < 0.01)a







Mean % applicable BMPs already adopted (N = 389; P < 0.001)







aSignificance was determined with one-way analysis of variance

The interview data provided an additional measure of landowners’ knowledge about BMPs and understanding of the relation of sediment and roads. All interview respondents were asked “What makes a good road?” In their answer to this and follow-up questions, respondents identified and described a variety of BMPs associated with the planning, construction, reconstruction, inspection, maintenance, and use of roads. Their responses were coded into three groups: (1) explicit discussion of BMPs (i.e., respondents described specific BMPs in the language of professionals), (2) implicit discussion of BMPs (i.e., respondents described the concepts of sediment control but did not mention specific BMPs), and (3) no discussion of BMPs (i.e., respondents did not discuss BMPs or link roads to sediment pollution). Answers in the first two categories indicate familiarity and knowledge of BMPs, whereas responses in the third category suggest a lack of awareness about sediment pollution and control.

Twenty interview respondents (35.7%) demonstrated knowledge of BMPs and the relation between sediment and roads by explicitly describing BMPs in the terms used by professionals; 15 interview respondents (26.8%) demonstrated knowledge of the relation between sediment and roads and implicitly suggested familiarity with the principles underlying BMPs (although they did not mention specific BMPs); and 21 interview respondents (37.5%) did not link roads with sediment control and described only other concerns, such as safety, comfort, and cost.

Similar to the results from the survey, the interviews showed that landowners using their lands for timber have more knowledge about BMPs than those using their land for residential, vacation, or other purposes (Fig. 4). Although the majority of interviewed timber landowners (85.7%) demonstrated knowledge about the relation of roads and sediment, residential landowners displayed more diversity in their knowledge about BMPs. The survey and interview measures of BMP familiarity are not aligned with respect to the relative knowledge of landowners with nontimber ranches. The survey metric suggests that landowners with nontimber-producing working lands have the greatest familiarity with BMPs, although the interviews suggest that this group has relatively low levels of familiarity. Care should be taken with this comparison because only four of the interview respondents had nontimber working lands, which is too small of a number from which to draw firm conclusions.
Fig. 4

Land use and response to “what makes a good road?”

Adoption of BMPs for Road Planning, Construction, and Management

As described previously, the mail survey collected information about respondents’ adoption of 12 BMPs for road planning, construction, and management required by regulations and/or recommended by nonregulatory guidelines. These data were also used to create a metric of adoption of BMPs for road planning, construction, and management as well as analyze the adoption of specific planning, construction, and management BMPs. The metric for BMP adoption was calculated by taking the ratio of BMPs the respondent reports as “already adopted” to the number of applicable BMPs on their land as follows:
$$ \left[ {{\text{no}} .\,{\text{already}}\,{\text{adopted}}/\left( {{\text{no}} .\,{\text{BMPs}}-{\text{no}} .\,{\text{NA}}} \right)} \right] . $$
On average, survey respondents had already adopted 50.2% of the planning, construction, and management BMPs that they consider applicable to their land. The adoption rate differed significantly by land use, with respondents using their lands for timber and nontimber ranching purposes reporting greater rates of BMP adoption than those using their land for residential, vacation, and other purposes (Table 5).
The rate of adoption for specific planning, construction, and management BMPs ranges from 20.3% for “develop a written erosion control plan” to 76.5% for “deposit construction waste away from streams.” In general, more timber and nontimber ranch landowners have adopted each BMP than residential, vacation, and other landowners. However, the strength of the correlation between land use and BMP adoption varies across the queried BMPs (Table 6).
Table 6

Relation between land use and landowners (%) who report adoption of specific BMPs



Working with timber

Nontimber ranch

Primary residence

Vacation home


Planning, construction, and management

 Plant vegetation on cutslopes or fillslopes (N = 253; P = NS)a







 Outslope roads (N = 318, P < 0.05)







 Ensure fish passage (N = 147; P < 0.01)







 Use erosion-control measures (N = 325; P < 0.01)







 Develop a written road-management plan (N = 304; P < 0.01)







 Identify areas with high erosion risk (N = 326; P = NS)







 Inventory sediment-delivery sites (N = 285; P = NS)







 Limit road construction to stable areas (N = 328; P = NS)







 Deposit construction waste away from streams (N = 285; P = NS)







 Develop a written erosion-control plan (N = 296; P < 0.001)







 Identify unstable areas on your land (N = 333; P = NS)







 Use rolling dips (N = 327; P < 0.001)







Inspection and maintenance

 Inspect roads at preferred frequency (N = 393; P < 0.05)







Design and use

 Mean % of all-season roads with improved surface (N = 417; P < 0.001*)







aSignificance was determined with chi-squared test except a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to determine the significance of land use and the starred (*) variable

Adoption of BMPs for Routine Inspection and Maintenance

Inspection and maintenance of watercourse crossings, road-drainage systems, and erosion-control structures are some of the least expensive and most effective ways to decrease the risk of sediment pollution. Landowners are advised to inspect their road systems (including the road surface, cut and fill slopes, and drainage structures, such as culverts, bridges, water bars, and ditches) and to perform routine maintenance at least once annually (before the rainy season) and preferably again during or after all large storms and at the end of the rainy season (Kocher and others 2007; Weaver and Hagans 1994).

Approximately 62% of survey respondents report that they inspect the condition of their roads at least once a year, and 45.8% indicate they inspect their roads at the preferred frequency of at least twice a year and during or after large storms. This behavior differed significantly by land use (Table 6). Respondents using their land for timber or nontimber ranching purposes are more likely to inspect their roads at the preferred frequency than those using their land as their primary residence, as a vacation home, or for other purposes.

Adoption of BMPs for the Use of All-Season Roads

Due to the sediment transport power of the North Coastal basin’s heavy winter rains, roads are particularly vulnerable to sedimentation during the wet winter season. The risk of sediment delivery can be decreased by not traveling on roads during the winter season and decreasing the number of trips during storm events. Although timber harvests and certain ranching activities can be stopped during the wet season, residential landowners need to access their property all year round and often make multiple trips on their roads each day. Approximately 67% of residential survey respondents, 63% of second-home respondents, and 47% of other respondents report that they use their entire road network in both the dry and wet seasons, although only 24% of timber landowners and 36% of nontimber ranchers use their entire road network all year.

When roads must be used in the wet season, using a rocked or other protected surface (rather than a native surface) can decrease the risk of sediment delivery to streams. The survey results indicate that residential landowners adopt this BMP more frequently than landowners in other land-use categories (Table 6). This is the only BMP for which landowners using their land as a primary residence outperform landowners using their land for timber or nontimber ranching purposes. The greater rate of adoption of the surfacing BMP among residential landowners is likely due to concerns about drivability and comfort rather than sedimentation.


Despite the common potential for sediment delivery from private roads on all land uses in the basin, road-regulated sediment pollution is unevenly managed and governed across land uses. The survey and interviews show that landowners engaged in timber and ranching land uses demonstrate greater knowledge about and adoption of BMPs than residential, vacation, and other newer landowners. A variety of social, economic, and biophysical factors influence individual decisions about land-management practices (Gill and others 2010). The greater knowledge and adoption of BMPs on working (timber and ranching) lands relative to newer residential, vacation, and other land uses can be linked to the stronger regulations on timberlands and the targeting of working landscapes by many nonregulatory programs.

In the North Coastal basin, the regulatory review process and enforcement mechanisms (coercive measures) associated with timber harvests induce high levels of compliance with required BMPs. In addition, the regulatory process forces timber landowners to consult with a registered professional forester, often prompting the exchange of knowledge about BMPs and local land conditions between the forester and timber landowner. Nonregulatory programs provide information, expertise, and other resources (noncoercive measures) that enable motivated landowners to implement BMPs. Financial assistance is particularly important because more than half of the interview respondents explained that economic considerations constrain their land management practices. However, these programs help landowners overcome knowledge and economic constraints only if the landowners are motivated to participate, qualified for assistance, and aware of the programs.

When considered in the context of changing ownership and land use in the basin, the results of this study suggest that the governance of sediment pollution as well as the use of sediment-control BMPs has diminished as the mix of land uses has evolved to include more rural residential, vacation, and other land uses relative to timber and ranching land uses. Timber and ranch roads that were once governed through timber regulations or targeted through nonregulatory programs leak out of those governing programs when they become residential or vacation roads. The weakened regulatory pressure and decreased access to nonregulatory assistance leads to a lower average rate of BMP implementation when compared with timber or ranch roads and combines with variations in knowledge, land-use goals, and economic resources to contribute to uneven implementation of BMPs on residential roads. The slow but ongoing land-use transition from timber and ranch lands to more rural residential and amenity-oriented development over the past four decades can thus be linked to an increased risk of sediment delivery to local streams and the continued degradation of habitat for salmonids.

These findings have implications for both the study and practice of environmental governance and management in transitioning rural regions. Formal governance institutions, including regulations and nonregulatory programs, are shown to be key arenas for pollution prevention and conservation in changing rural regions. Previous research has highlighted the multiplicity of factors that influence individual land-management decisions (Gill and others 2010), linked changes in land-tenure change to changes in the social relations and institutions that formally and informally govern environmental management on private land (Haggerty and Travis 2006; Yung and Belsky 2007), and suggested that existing regulations may not be adequate to address new ownership arrangements (Gosnell and others 2007; Klepeis and others 2009). Here, regulatory and nonregulatory programs are shown to be powerful influences on individual land-management practices. At the same time, their influence on sediment management at a regional level is shrinking because they have not kept pace with changes in land ownership and use.

Addressing NPS pollution and other human–environmental issues at the regional level requires adapting governing programs to the changing circumstances and the increasingly heterogeneous landscape—a task that is not easily accomplished. More extensive regulation and enforcement is an unlikely prospect in the North Coastal basin and, by extension, in other transitioning rural regions. The strength of sediment regulations on timberlands lies in the well-developed regulatory infrastructure provided by the California FPA and the relatively high public support for the regulation of timber. With no similar regulatory infrastructure in place for ranch, residential, vacation, and other lands, any new regulation would require substantial investment of already scarce time and financial resources. The continued economic crisis in California and the constant budgetary challenge faced by many environmental and planning agencies makes the devotion of the requisite resources doubtful. Beyond the resource challenge, there is also substantial political resistance to the creation of new regulations on private lands, especially when those private lands are not used for commercial purposes.

Nonregulatory approaches may be better suited to the challenge of reaching rural residential, vacation, and other landowners, but they must be significantly retailored to address the specific needs and circumstances of residential, vacation, and other landowners. Some potential approaches include written guides, internet resources, and workshops that target these alternative landowners; grant-funding opportunities that encourage applications from residential and vacation landowners; and implementation of road-upgrading and restoration projects in rural subdivisions. In providing technical and financial assistance, new programs need to address the specific challenges associated with residential and vacation roads, such as all-season use, shared maintenance, and planning for long absences. Larsen and others (2011) suggest that resource and conservation professionals can disseminate information to rural residential landowners by identifying and sharing knowledge with key individuals (“learning hubs”), who then spread the knowledge through their social network. Identifying leaders in road and homeowners’ associations may provide a path to “learning hubs” and a natural information network for sediment control as well as other resource management issues that cross property boundaries (e.g., fire control, invasive species management, wildlife management). In addition to assistance from traditional nonregulatory organizations, developers, realtors, and city-planning offices could also play a role by disseminating written guides or lists of organizations providing assistance when property ownership changes.

A few small nonprofit organizations and agency staff in the North Coastal basin have already turned their attention to residential and vacation landowners, providing them with technical assistance, grant-application guidance, and assistance in implementing road-upgrading and -restoration projects. These programs have been most successful when working with motivated, sympathetic landowners and when working with well-functioning and cooperative road associations (Short 2010). However, their engagement with residential, vacation, and other landowners has not been seamless. Professionals who have worked with residential and vacation landowners report challenges with the coordination of multiple landowners for a single project and the continued maintenance of road-upgrade projects. Part-time residence and absenteeism create an additional challenge because these landowners are not present to take part in maintenance activities or decisions about land management (Klepeis and others 2009).

More extensive engagement of residential, vacation, and other nontraditional landowners by other organizations will also require changes in the culture, mission, and, in many cases, funding priorities of nonregulatory government organizations and self-reflection on the part of community-based groups that have historically focused on the ecological effects of timber production. This points to the need for further research to better understand the barriers to organizational change, the factors that facilitate the evolution and adaptation of governing programs to the challenges posed by increasingly heterogeneous landscapes, and alternative formal and informal institutions that can supplement existing governing programs.


This study of the governance and management of sediment pollution in the North Coastal basin of California shows that landowners engaged in more traditional rural land uses have more knowledge and self-reported adoption of BMPs than landowners using their land for residential, vacation, and other purposes. These differences in management practices can be linked to variation in the influence of governing programs across land uses. With the exception of a few isolated nonregulatory efforts, neither regulations nor nonregulatory programs effectively address sediment pollution from residential, vacation, or other newer land uses. Landowners’ decisions about how to use their land, as well as their propensity to seek out technical and financial assistance, influence their exposure to governing programs and consequently their use of BMPs for pollution control. Because changes in land tenure during the past 40 years have been accompanied by increasing rates of residential, vacation, and other land uses in the North Coastal basin, these results suggest that application of BMPs has decreased across the basin during that time.

Pollution control and other forms of environmental conservation in the North Coastal basin and other transitioning rural regions can be improved through the adaptation of governing programs to the unique needs created by the increase of residential, vacation, and other nontraditional land uses. Although I have suggested some potential avenues for updating these programs and highlighted some challenges associated with this process, more research through similar detailed case studies and comparative studies is needed to better understand the prospects and challenges for governing changing regions. Future research can build on these results to more deeply link regional governance, individual management decisions, and ecological outcomes in other locations and to identify the conditions through which nonregulatory programs and regulations can adapt to address pollution and other human–environmental issues on increasingly heterogeneous landscapes.


This research would not have been possible without the many people throughout the North Coastal basin who shared their time and experiences. I am grateful to the landowners who completed the mail survey and to the landowners, agency employees, members, and staff at nonprofit organizations as well as private consultants who talked with me. In addition, the manuscript benefited from the insights of three anonymous reviewers; from Timothy Duane, Louise Fortmann, Richard Norgaard, Nathan Sayre, Elizabeth Boyer, and Richard Harris; as well as from ideas nurtured in the 2007 Marie Curie THEMES Summer School: Institutional Analysis of Sustainability Problems. The research was funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011