The Importance of Community Classification to Mitigation and Restoration of Coastal Sage Scrub



Community classification has emerged from ecology textbooks into the arena of environmental impact evaluation and mitigation. This development is especially apparent in southern California, where the fate of a community called coastal sage scrub is being decided. Regional plans for development, mitigation, preservation, and restoration are being formulated that will permanently affect the natural landscape. This paper demonstrates the potential for the name of a plant community to affect tradeoffs in planning processes that are intended to offset removal of habitat by development. The discussion focuses on two types of classification systems. One system is hierarchical, with established nomenclatorial rules that allow natural variation to refine the community definitions. Names of plant associations directly reflect the dominant species in the association, as in Artemisia californica—Eriogonum fasciculatum (California sagebrush—California buckwheat). The second system is nonhierarchical, in which observations of natural landscapes are fit into established definitions of community types, such as Diegan coastal sage scrub. Advantages and disadvantages of both types of systems are discussed and illustrated by two examples of problems in classifying coastal sage scrub. The discussion concludes with the point that the name of a community has the potential to significantly affect the extent to which equal tradeoffs between community types are actually achieved in mitigation and restoration efforts.