Audubon California is increasingly working with the owners and operators of working lands throughout the state to increase the value of these properties for birds and wildlife. We do this by working with landowners to modify land management practices and encouraging restoration of native habitats in these landscapes.
One of the biggest transformations in California over the last 150 years was the conversion of millions of acres of natural wetlands, grasslands, and stream-side forest to create one of the world's most productive agricultural landscapes. While this resulted in the irreparable loss of habit for birds and wildlife, the reality is that we must find ways for conservation and agriculture to coincide. Private agricultural lands encompass 25 million acres of open space in California - fully one-quarter of the state. Fortunately, we are learning that farms and ranches can be effective surrogates for natural habitats that have been lost and, when appropriately managed, can support wildlife diversity approaching that found on natural lands.
Private lands are vital for a diversity of wildlife, including 60 percent of the threatened and endangered species in the U.S. The importance of private lands for birds is particularly evident. Over 200 bird species in California depend on agricultural habitats for at least part of their annual life cycle. This is not difficult to imagine when witnessing the still spectacular congregations of birds in agricultural fields of the Central Valley during migration and over the winter, where large patches of white indicate where as many as 100,000 Snow Geese have gathered in a single field. Millions of waterbirds rest and feed in wetlands provided by winter flooded rice fields in the Sacramento Valley and it's estimated that 70 percent of the food needed to support the more than 5 million waterfowl wintering in the Central Valley every year is produced by private agricultural land.
Conservation on working lands
Over the past decade Audubon California has built up its private lands work, partnering with farmers and ranchers through a number of its programs, especially our Landowner Stewardship Program based in the Sacramento Valley. Through our work with over 75 farming and ranching families in the Central Valley, Audubon has developed a reputation as a reliable partner able to help deliver habitat restoration projects on working farms and ranches. Public agencies and agricultural organizations view Audubon as an important collaborative partner and emerging leader in private lands conservation.
Other examples of Audubon California's private lands work includes:
- Leading the Tricolored Blackbird Working Group and working with farmers to voluntarily protect this rare bird as an alternative to it being listed as an endangered species;
- Working with private landowners surrounding Audubon's Kern River Preserve to eradicate invasive weeds and manage riparian habitat;
- Partnering with the Sycamore Family Trust under a five year agreement to develop a conservation vision and implement restoration projects on their 5,000 acre Davis Home Ranch in the Sacramento Valley;
- Deepening our collaboration with the California Rice Commission through our work with the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership and working with individual rice growers to identify and implement field management practices that enhance the habitat value of rice farms for birds; and
- Partnering with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to permanently protect and implement habitat enhancement projects on private ranches in northeastern California.