In December 2020, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation concluded operations. Founded in 1957, the Foundation was committed to building a productive, vibrant, and sustainable California. In 2009, the Foundation decided to invest all of its assets, or spend down, by 2020 in order to spur significant progress on the challenging issues facing the state in education and environment. This collection features knowledge produced by the Foundation and its partners during its final decade of work. Read concluding reflections from the Foundation's president and learn more about its grantmaking.

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Learning Alongside Grantees: Environment Program Examples and Reflections

December 17, 2020

This essay describes the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation's approach to evaluation in its Environment Program. This approach was grantee-centric, shaped by the varied needs of nonprofits in the environment field as well as the Foundation's decision to spend down all assets by 2020 – which limited the number of years available to conduct evaluations and put new lessons to use. The Environment Program funded grantees to evaluate work they deemed critical to their missions or to build organizational capacity to conduct ongoing learning and evaluation. Knowledge gained through grantee activities informed their internal improvement efforts as well as the Foundation's grantmaking decisions.Seven examples illustrate the range of nonprofit learning and evaluation efforts supported by the Foundation. These experiences surfaced challenges as well as recommendations, presented later in this essay, that might be instructive to other environment funders who value learning and evaluation as means to greater impact. 

Evaluation Practice; Land; Water

Guiding Principles for Equitable Engagement in Coordinated Planning

September 1, 2020

Five foundations from across the state, known as the Community Foundation Water Initiative, have been working since 2015 to advance sustainable water management solutions. The Initiative partnered with Local Government Commission to develop a report on the Equitable Integration of Water and Land Use which was released in 2019. Shortly following the report, each foundation selected one nonprofit in their region to advance the report's regional recommendations and statewide strategies while building local capacity for coordination. This cohort of five NGOs collaborated for an entire year, culminating their work in this guide.

Land; Water

Environment Program Snapshot: Capacity Building

August 1, 2020

The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation invests in capacity building to enhance the effectiveness of our water and land grantees and enhance the systems and structures surrounding their work.The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation envisions a California that manages, stewards, and conserves its water and land to support a resilient environment and healthy communities. This snapshot, prepared as the Foundation nears conclusion in 2020, documents a core strategy within its Environment Program.

Land; Water

Expand Conservation through New Tools and Innovations

July 1, 2020

Improving statewide conservation systems is hard in any scenario, and especially so in a time-limited circumstance. The S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation's intent to conclude operations, with an end date ultimately set for 2020, meant there might be limited chances for emerging innovations to align with political will and receptivity to new policy. Nevertheless, with a tolerance for risk, the Foundation made significant investments to help the field develop new approaches that could carry conservation efforts forward even as the Foundation ended its role as a major funder in California.


Environment Program Snapshot: Land Portfolio

May 1, 2020

The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation invests in California's protected lands network to enhance local communities, preserve wildlife habitat, and provide recreational opportunities for all. In tandem, the Foundation works to increase conservation on private and unprotected lands throughout California.The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation envisions a California that manages, stewards, and conserves its water and land to support a resilient environment and healthy communities. This snapshot, prepared as the Foundation nears conclusion in 2020, documents essential aspects of the Environment Program's land portfolio.


Advancing Durable and Relevant Protected Lands

April 1, 2020

The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation sought to advance the durability and relevance of California's protected lands network to support a resilient environment and healthy communities.As the Foundation pursued this goal across the decade beginning in 2009, its work built on increasing awareness of the opportunity for cross-jurisdictional partnerships to steward protected lands at large scale -- and on the need to rethink management of California's spectacular state parks system. The state parks came under significant threat as the state faced a budget crisis in 2009; the Foundation became a major funder beginning in 2013 when that system's future remained in question. The Foundation's protected lands strategy would come to be defined by these twin approaches -- investing in partnerships to steward large landscapes in California, and in transforming the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the agency responsible for state parks. These elements overlapped and were integrated over time. The strategy also featured capacity-building grants to key organizations, with a particular focus on land trusts.The Foundation approach was facilitative and adaptive, continually enhanced through learning. Grantees were encouraged to identify the supports that would make the greatest difference based on their respective circumstances, assets, and aspirations. Foundation strategy drew on available evidence to combine bold thinking with pragmatic practices. Overall, the Foundation's work was relationship-centric, with program staff spending substantial time with grantees as well as other organizations and groups important to stewarding public lands in California.This reflection includes background on Foundation investments in the protected lands portfolio. It further describes context and strategy for the work of the Foundation and its grantee partners. It concludes with key takeaways, formulated by Foundation staff, that might benefit other funders, policymakers, and organizations pursuing effective, large-scale stewardship of protected lands.


California Conservation Fund: Protecting wetlands, informing large-scale strategies

February 1, 2020

The California Conservation Fund was a charitable operating foundation established by Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. to protect and restore waterfowl habitat. The Fund's primary impact was the conservation of more than 4,000 acres of prime habitat. Its secondary impact, while less direct, was larger in scale: Fund activities yielded insight into the underlying dynamics of wetland and open space management in California and, in turn, deeply influenced S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Environment Program investments. In the Foundation's spend-down years, its Environment Program focused on systemic issues highlighted by the California Conservation Fund's efforts, and worked toward a California that manages, stewards, and conserves its water and land to support a resilient environment and economy.

Land; Water

Bringing Water and Land Use Together: Final Report to the Community Foundation Water Initiative on the Equitable Integration of Water and Land Use

April 1, 2019

California is moving toward a more holistic approach to managing our water and land resources as the 21st century unfolds. This perspective recognizes the interconnectivity between two traditionally fragmented sectors.In 2005, the California Legislature passed new laws that enable communities to join together to adopt Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) policies and practices. This comprehensive planning approach considers water resources in the context of an interconnected watershed with a network of regional governance, rather than as a combination of fragmented parts. Unfortunately, the IRWM program is dominated by the water sector and in most regions has not pursued alignment with land use.Similarly, the Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS) mandated through [legislation] establish a framework for aligning land use practices (predominantly housing and transportation) across jurisdictions within a larger geographic region. Yet very few SCSs have taken water resources into account.While water management and land-use planning remain highly fragmented across the state, we are making progress toward a more integrated approach, especially when setting new state-level policies, regulations and guidance. The 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is a leap forward in this direction. For the first time, local land use agencies have an opportunity to be full partners with water agencies in shaping groundwater governance. It is too soon to determine how well these two sectors are integrating under SGMA, but early results are promising.

Land; Water

Partnership Impact Evaluation Guide

January 1, 2019

Understanding, measuring, and communicating a partnership's "value added" or "impact" is important to successfully optimize collaboration, yet evaluating partnership impact has often been difficult for landscape-scale partnerships and the partnership field in general. This guide is designed to help multi-sector partnerships undertaking long-term, systems-level collaboration to best define, measure, and evaluate impact. The 7 Steps of Partnership Impact Evaluation is presented as a framework to assist these partnerships with the recurring process of conducting impact evaluations. Partnerships are encouraged to use this guide in conjunction with the other elements of the Partnership Impact Model™: the 11 Partnership Impacts, Scaling Up Partnership Impact, and the Partnership Impact Roadmap.


Migration Moneyball

November 12, 2018

Migratory birds are nature's marathon runners. They trek between their summer and winter homes each year, some flying to the end of the earth and back again. Certain species can travel for days without eating or sleeping - but eventually they all need a place to rest and refuel.For the birds that migrate along the Pacific Flyway, which stretches thousands of miles from the Arctic to Patagonia, California's Central Valley was once the ideal pit stop. Its lush wetland terrain supported tens of millions of birds on their annual pilgrimage. But today, more than 95 percent of those wetlands have disappeared, lost to farmland, urban sprawl, an overburdened water system and extreme drought.Climate change is putting pressure on migratory species, shifting and compacting their ranges. A 2014 study found 90 percent of North American shorebirds surveyed, most of which migrate along the Pacific coast, were expected to face an increased risk of extinction due to climate-driven threats."Birds are under a lot of stress," says Mark Reynolds, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy's migratory bird program. "They're flying around looking for habitat and mostly not finding it."To protect birds that are always on the move, The Nature Conservancy looked to pioneers of the sharing economy, such as Uber, Airbnb and Zipcar. If short-term deals can work for cars and condos, why couldn't it work for conservation?With this model in mind, the Conservancy rolled out an innovative program called BirdReturns in 2013. Combining images from NASA satellites, data from citizen scientists and land rented from local rice farmers, the program provides pop-up habitats when and where birds need it most.

Land; Water

Impact of extreme drought and incentive programs on flooded agriculture and wetlands in California’s Central Valley

June 29, 2018

BackgroundBetween 2013 and 2015, a large part of the western United States, including the Central Valley of California, sustained an extreme drought. The Central Valley is recognized as a region of hemispheric importance for waterbirds, which use flooded agriculture and wetlands as habitat. Thus, the impact of drought on the distribution of surface water needed to be assessed to understand the effects on waterbird habitat availability.MethodsWe used remote sensing data to quantify the impact of the recent extreme drought on the timing and extent of waterbird habitat during the non-breeding season (July-May) by examining open water in agriculture (rice, corn, and other crops) and managed wetlands across the Central Valley. We assessed the influence of habitat incentive programs, particularly The Nature Conservancy's BirdReturns and The Natural Resources Conservation Service's Waterbird Habitat Enhancement Program (WHEP), at offsetting habitat loss related to drought.ResultsOverall, we found statistically significant declines in open water in post-harvest agriculture (45-80% declines) and in managed wetlands (39-60% declines) during the 2013-2015 drought compared to non-drought years during the period of 2000-2011. Crops associated with the San Joaquin Basin, specifically corn, as well as wetlands in that part of the Central Valley exhibited larger reductions in open water than rice and wetlands in the Sacramento Valley. Semi-permanent wetlands on protected lands had significantly lower (39-49%) open water in the drought years than those on non-protected lands while seasonal wetlands on protected lands had higher amounts of open water. A large fraction of the daily open water in rice during certain times of the year, particularly in the fall for BirdReturns (61%) and the winter for WHEP (100%), may have been provided through incentive programs which underscores the contribution of these programs. However, further assessment is needed to know how much the incentive programs directly offset the impact of drought in post-harvest rice by influencing water management or simply supplemented funding for activities that might have been done regardless.DiscussionOur landscape analysis documents the significant impacts of the recent extreme drought on freshwater wetland habitats in the Central Valley, the benefits of incentive programs, and the value of using satellite data to track surface water and waterbird habitats. More research is needed to understand subsequent impacts on the freshwater dependent species that rely on these systems and how incentive programs can most strategically support vulnerable species during future extreme drought.

Land; Water

Generating, Scaling Up, and Sustaining Partnership Impact: One Tam’s First Four Years

January 1, 2018

Landscape-scale collaboration has become an important pathway to manage and steward public lands and natural resources in the United States. To understand the impact of formalized, collaborative efforts, a new partnership called One Tam (, based in California's Marin County, was studied in its first four years. Findings from this research include a collection of interdependent, scalable impacts that are presented as the Partnership Impact Model -- highlighting three impact classifications: foundational, operational, and outcome. This emergent model has practical implications for collaboratives and funders struggling to identify ways to understand, describe, and optimize partnership impact.


About this collection:   Presidents reflections | Intellectual property