Sacramento Valley Rice Farmers Flock to Save Birds

More than 165 California rice growers have signed up for an innovative program to enhance bird habitat on their land. The Sacramento Valley farmers recently enrolled in a new Natural Resources Conservation Service program, operated in conjunction with conservation groups, that offers almost $3 million in incentives to the growers to manage their properties in ways that will benefit birds.

The Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership, a partnership of Audubon California, PRBO Conservation Science, and The Nature Conservancy, is helping to facilitate this project in collaboration with NRCS. The farmers come from Glenn, Colusa, Yuba, Sutter, Sacramento and Yolo counties.

“The Waterbird Habitat Enhancement Program through NRCS is a huge program for us, significantly increasing the acres of farmland enrolled to improve the Valley for migratory birds and allowing California rice farmers to make a significant conservation investment,” explains Alan Forkey, Assistant State Conservationist with NRCS. “Working lands are truly the frontier for the future of protecting this state’s wildlife.”

Wetland habitat in the Central Valley has declined rapidly over the past 150 years. Less than 5 percent of the region’s original wetland habitat remains today. As the Sierra Nevada’s permanent snowpack dwindles, water supply is expected to become less reliable for people and wildlife.  This and other threats demands new collaborative approaches to farming and conservation.

Over 100 species of shorebirds, ducks and geese depend upon rice fields for part of their life cycle and survival

“Rice as acts as surrogate wetland habitat for many shorebirds, ducks and geese, and is an important focus of our private lands conservation work in the region,” explains Monica Iglecia, Audubon California Shorebird Conservation Biologist. “Right now, rice represents nearly 80 percent of flooded habitat used by migratory birds in the Sacramento Valley.”

“Many people don’t associate the Central Valley with shorebirds,” says Catherine Hickey of PRBO Conservation Science and Chair of the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Council. “But shorebirds aren’t just at the shore. Hundreds of thousands of migrating shorebirds and millions of waterfowl rely on wetlands and flooded agriculture like rice each year.”

People who farm, love nature, and enjoy hunting and bird watching share something in common – a love of the land and respect for what nature provides people and wildlife.  This voluntary partnership between conservationists and farmers is an excellent example of win-win conservation.

More information is available at

The Sacramento Valley is designated as a site of Hemispheric Importance to shorebirds by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

(Photo of American Bittern taken in Colusa County by Monica Iglecia)

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