Working Lands

Partnering with landowners to protect birds

Black-necked Stilt flying by granary.

Audubon California's Working Lands Program increases the scope and scale of bird-friendly practices on farms, wetlands and other managed lands in the Central Valley.  We do this by cultivating relationships with landowners, advocating for statewide policies that secure water and habitat for birds, and through engaging our grassroots network in their communities. Our work provides protection for focal species like the Long-billed Curlew, Tricolored Blackbird, and Western Grebe.

California’s Central Valley has 205,000 acres of managed wetlands, less than 5 percent of what was historically on the landscape. The region has some of the most fertile land in the nation and boasts 7 million acres of irrigated farmland. Some types of farms – particularly those with rice and other flood irrigated field crops – provide an important alternative to wetland habitat for birds and other wildlife. The synergy of flooded farmland and wetlands fundamentally links the health of Pacific Flyway bird populations and California’s farms and Audubon California has worked for 15 years to build partnerships with farmers to protect, enhance, and restore bird habitat on farmland in California’s Central Valley.

The Pacific Flyway is a major migratory pathway for birds and stretches from Alaska through South America. The Central Valley is a major stopover site for birds to feed and rest. Wetland habitat provided by Central Valley farms, refuges, and other managed areas support between 5-7 million waterfowl and 350,000 shorebirds each year. That’s over 60% of the Pacific Flyway and 20% of the nation's waterfowl population. Over the long-term, the best opportunities to ensure the long-term conservation of birds and other wildlife in the Central Valley is to protect and enhance working landscapes for birds and wildlife while also ensuring a vibrant system of managed wetlands on public and private lands.

Examples of Audubon California's private lands work includes:

  • Audubon partnered with the Almond Board of California and UC Davis to compile information on the role birds play in almond orchards to help us better understand potential opportunities for habitat enhancement associated with almonds. 
  • The Tricolored Blackbird is an iconic California species whose population has seen precipitous decline over the last 100 years. In an effort to protect the remaining birds, Audubon California worked closely with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the dairy industry and the California Farm Bureau, to save 100% of known colonies nesting on farmland that were at risk of destruction during harvest this year. 2016 marked the first time we achieved full protection of colonies at risk of destruction on farmland in the Central Valley, saving 57,000 breeding adult Tricolored Blackbirds
  • Four years of drought reduced wetland habitat throughout the Central Valley. Habitat availability during spring migration is one focus of the Central Valley Joint Venture (link to CVJV site). To try to address the shortage of habitat, Audubon California partnered with The Nature Conservancy to create over 3,000 acres of shorebird habitat during April and May on wetlands in the San Joaquin Valley. By prolonging flooding of these wetlands, we created shallow water for shorebirds to rest and feed along their spring migration. The prolonged flooding supported ten times the number of birds than surrounding wetlands that had been drawndown on the traditional timeframe. In the upcoming year, we will continue to work to protect water deliveries to the wetlands and refuges for birds and other wildlife

The Tricolored Blackbird in California

Grasslands Video on CVPIA with MH from Meghan Hertel on Vimeo.

Landowner Resources
Working Lands

Landowner Resources

Working lands can provide a great deal of habitat opportunities for birds and other wildlife... 

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News & Updates

Alfalfa is for the Birds!
Working Lands

Alfalfa is for the Birds!

Audubon California is working hard to understand how this crop provides habitat for birds.

Black terns and rice fields

What birds are using rice fields over the summer? Meghan Hertel, our Director of Land and Water Conservation shares a bit about one of her favorites, the Black tern, in this video from the California Rice Commission.

Wildfire and California Rangelands
Working Lands

Wildfire and California Rangelands

Bobcat Ranch is an Audubon property in Yolo County, just outside of Winters. Each summer for the last few years, the ranch has been in the path of fires: the Cold Fire, Monticello Fire, and most recently the County Fire. We had a few questions for our hard-working ranch manger.

U.S. Senate passes 2018 Farm Bill with commitment to conservation

In a statement yesterday, The National Audubon Society praised the commitment to conservation in the 2018 Senate Farm Bill. The bill now moves to conference commitee where it will be reconciled with the House Farm Bill passed last week.  Audubon urges robust conservation in the final bill. 

“The Senate Farm Bill provides important tools to collaborate with producers on working landscapes to address bird habitat, water, and soil health needs,” said David O’Neill, Chief Conservation Officer for National Audubon Society. The National Audubon Society partners with private land managers on bird-friendly conservation strategies as part of the Working Lands Program.

The bill provides funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to bring together farm and conservation groups for mutually benedical collaborations, such as Audubon California's work to protect the Tricolored Blackbird which is now listed as a Threatened under the California Endangered Species Act.

Read Audubon's full statement here and learn more about why the Senate's 2018 Farm Bill is good for birds.

For more on the RCPP and Tricolored Blackbirds in California check out this story from earlier this year. 

Bobcat Ranch and Audubon's Conservation Ranching program

Audubon California's Bobcat Ranch is a participant in Audubon's Conservation Ranching program. Learn more about that program here.

The Farm Bill is super important for birds

It's hard to imagine any piece of federal legislation more complex -- or more wonky -- than the Farm Bill. But as this great Audubon story suggests, there's a lot in the Farm Bill for birds. Here in California, Farm Bill helps provide habitat for birds on Central Valley farms and protect rare Tricolored Blackbirds, but that's just the beginning.

High School students learn how conservation and agriculture work together
Working Lands

High School students learn how conservation and agriculture work together

Through ongoing partnerships Audubon California works with farmers and students to connect habitat and increase conservation on working lands

Partnerships protect over 160,000 acres of wetland
Working Lands

Partnerships protect over 160,000 acres of wetland

Our partnerships with local chapters and the Grasslands Water District ensure the protection of contiguous wetland habitat

Working with rice farmers to help birds in the Central Valley

Audubon California's Khara Strum ventures out to Sutter County to visit a rice farm that is flooding early to provide habitat for migratory birds. She uses the visit to talk about our work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the California Rice Commission to provide more habitat for these birds on farms.

Making Farmland Work for Wildlife

Photo: Elizabeth Herman

Audubon's new story series "What's a Stake" takes a look at conservation programs threatened by federal budget cuts and environmental policy rollbacks.  The series highlights Audubon California's Conservation Program Director, Samantha Arthur, and her work with dairy farmers to protect Tricolored Blackbird colonies, which is funded by a federal program proposed for elimination.  

Check out this great story here.

Learn more about our Working Lands Program and efforts to protect  theTricolored Blackbird here.

How you can help, right now