Restoration Project Planning: Efficient CDFW Permitting with the HRE Act

By Erik Schmidt, Regulatory Permitting Specialist

WRA expects to soon submit its first project application to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) for regulatory review through the innovative Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Act (HRE Act), an alternative approval process for small-scale habitat restoration activities. Many types of commonly proposed restoration work may be eligible for the HRE Act, as well as other state and federal permits and approvals for beneficial projects, including:

  • Removal of defunct dams, sills, aprons, and concrete crossings from streams
  • Upgrading bridges and culverts to restore fish passage, as well as maintaining roads and access
  • Improving hydrology and revegetating to restore wetlands, ponds, and riparian areas for amphibians, fish, and other species
  • Removing invasive plants to enhance habitat suitability
  • Controlling erosion with sediment source reduction to improve water quality
  • Improving off- and side-channel stream habitat and reconnecting floodplains
  • Large wood installation to improve stream habitat complexity

Activities can provide additional benefits, such as improved public access, flood resilience, and recreation, so long as the work is voluntary (not required as mitigation, enforcement-related, or court-ordered) and intended primarily to restore fish and wildlife habitat.

Replacement of concrete road crossings and undersized culverts with modern bridges can be facilitated with the HRE Act’s efficient review process. Photo credit: Erik Schmidt

In the past, project applicants with small-scale habitat enhancement projects needed to obtain permits through CDFW’s standard Sec. 1602 Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement, and Sec. 2081 California Endangered Species Act incidental take processes, just the same as applicants for development projects that may have far greater impacts. Since 2015, however, the HRE Act has offered applicants an opportunity to receive CDFW approval in either 30 days (Fish & Game Code Sec. 1652) or 60 days (F&GC Sec. 1653) – a significant savings in time and resources for project proponents. To qualify, applicants’ projects need to:

  • Impact no more than 5 acres in area and 500 cumulative linear feet of a stream
  • Be voluntary habitat restoration
  • Have complete design plans (90% plans or better)
  • Include all appropriate impact avoidance measures

In addition, HRE Act application and approval is linked to Section 401 general water quality certification by the Water Boards, leading to further permitting efficiency. Nearly 100 beneficial projects around California have now received expedited CDFW authorization through the HRE Act process, and usage continues to grow.

Our first HRE Act submittal for a proposed multi-use pathway replacement to improve tidal wetlands is a perfect example of the type of small-scale, low-impact project the HRE Act was designed to support. For projects that may qualify for this and other state and federal approvals for habitat restoration and multi-benefit activities, WRA offers clients a variety of professional services to advance an initial concept through planning, design, and permitting, to successful implementation, post-project monitoring, and reporting.

Instream log placement improves aquatic habitat complexity in wood-deficient streams. Photo credit: Erik Schmidt

WRA can now offer contracting for a suite of landscape restoration services through our new subsidiary, WRA Landscape Restoration, Inc. This team of licensed professionals can provide maintenance planning, implementation, and monitoring services to maintain, enhance, and restore natural habitats.

WRA’s engineering and landscape architecture design team collaborates closely with WRA’s biological and regulatory specialists to create thoughtful plans for restoration-related construction activities in or near sensitive aquatic and terrestrial resources. WRA’s comprehensive understanding guides our designs and project descriptions that must meet agency requirements.

Removal of obsolete diversion dams and other structures in channels can be accomplished with the support of grant funding and advanced permits and approvals for fish and wildlife habitat restoration. Photo credit: Erik Schmidt

If you have questions about whether your project could be eligible for the HRE Act or other restoration permits and authorizations, or if you would like a general consultation about your plans, please go to our Contact Us page, or reach out to Erik Schmidt, our Regulatory Permitting Specialist with extensive experience working with state and federal approvals for habitat projects.