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Protection, Restoration and Enhancement of Tricolored Blackbird Habitat

Year Awarded: Fiscal Year 2015Tricolored Blackbird nesting in silage.
USDA Funding: $1.1 million
Partner-Contributed Funding: $825,818
Project Timeline: 2015 – 2019
Conservation Program Funded: Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Agricultural Conservation Easement Program - Wetland Reserve Easement (ACEP-WRE)
California Counties: Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Stanislaus, Tulare
Lead Partner: Audubon California is dynamic field program of the National Audubon Society with a mission to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity.

Project Summary

Audubon California, California Farm Bureau Federation, Dairy Cares, Sustainable Conservation and Western United Dairymen are collaborating with NRCS in the California Bay Delta region to address the dramatic decline of the Tricolored Blackbird – a near California endemic species and the last large-scale, land-based colonial nester in North America.The geographic focus of this RCPP project is Tricolored Blackbird nesting habitat in the San Joaquin Valley of the Bay Delta Critical Conservation Area. Stanislaus, Merced, Fresno, Kings, Tulare, and Kern counties are included in the project area to cover where there are patterns of concentrated, large Tricolored Blackbird colonies on dairy farms and associated forage operations. Madera and Mariposa counties are also included to capture recently documented large colonies.
Two primary causes for this drastic decline are a lack of natural, wetland habitat with sufficient invertebrate food resources and the resulting nesting of these colonies on agricultural fields at a time that conflicts with the harvest schedule. This conflict represents a unique challenge of finding the balance between providing natural habitat, protecting colonies on agricultural lands, and supporting the livelihood of dairy farmers. This RCPP is a partnership between the dairy industry and conservation groups to address the factors that challenge California dairy farmers and threaten Tricolored Blackbirds with the goal of finding a sustainable solution for management of colonies on farms and saving the Tricolored Blackbird from extinction.
We propose a five-year comprehensive program available to the San Joaquin Valley in the Bay Delta CCA that would bring agricultural, conservation and agency partners together to:
  1. Offer financial and technical assistance for harvest management practices through EQIP that was already successfully launched in California and critical over the last three years to the survival and successful reproduction of large Tricolored Blackbird colonies on dairy farms and forage operations in the Central Valley of California.
  2. Establish an innovative working group with industry partners to develop, vet and pilot potential long-term solutions that could substitute for federal harvest management practices when farmers have Tricolored Blackbird colonies on their fields and avoid situations leading to the destruction of colonies on forage fields.
  3. Implement an industry-led, promotional campaign highlighting farmers’ role in saving this species, changing perception among farmers, particularly dairy farmers, regarding this issue, and educating the public on the importance of Tricolored Blackbirds, dairy and forage farms and the role of NRCS.
  4. Complement the harvest management practice with habitat restoration and enhancement projects, increasing Tricolored Blackbird management practices on current or future ACEP-WRE properties and on private agricultural lands to provide additional safe places for colonies of Tricolored Blackbirds to successfully nest.