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Waterbird Habitat Enhancement on Central Valley Agricultural Lands

Year Awarded: Fiscal Year 2015

USDA Funding: $7 million

Partner-Contributed Funding: $2,907,800

Project Timeline: 2015 – 2019

Conservation Program Funded: Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)

California Counties: Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba

Lead Partner: The California Rice Commission represents the 2,500 family rice farmers and handlers who farm and process rice produced in California by engaging in a range of comprehensive regulatory, research and education programs.

Project Summary

The California Rice Commission and eight cooperating partners, representing a coalition of industry, agency, conservation and environmental groups, seek to implement a comprehensive program under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to contribute substantially to the population health of wetland-dependent wildlife species in the Central Valley, the heart of the Pacific Flyway, with a special emphasis on shorebirds, waterfowl, wading birds, and other colonial waterbirds.
 The conservation objectives for the Water Habitat Enhancement RCPP include the following –
  1. Post-harvest crop residue management with boards-in. Post-harvest rice fields will be prepared with a method that leaves at least 60 percent of crop residues on the ground as forage for wintering and migrating birds. Replacing boards post-harvest will allow fields to collect seasonal rainwater and to provide flooded waterbird habitat conditions. Boards will remain in place until at least February 1.
  2. Winter flooding with variable drawdown through the month of February. Flooding fields after harvest, holding water during the winter, then implementing a variable drawdown in February to create matrix of shallow water and mudflat habitat for wintering and migrating bird habitat. Post-harvested rice fields will be prepared with a method that leaves at least 60 percent of crop residues on the ground as forage for resident and migrating waterbirds.
  3. Seasonal Inundation with gradual drawdown. Water will be applied to post-harvested, or fallowed, fields with at least 60 percent of crop residues to create shallow water habitat for migrating waterbirds. Fields are flooded for two weeks between July 1 and September 15, then followed by two weeks of gradual draining.
  4. Nesting/loafing Islands. Install nesting/loafing islands to create nesting habitat for waterbirds during the months of March through July, while providing loafing areas for the duration of the year.
  5. Cover crops for seasonal nesting habitat. Cover crops are planted in the fall on idle rice fields to create nesting habitat for waterbirds.The cover crop will remain in place until at least July 15th to provide the nesting habitat through the entire migratory bird nesting season.
  6. Seasonal habitat ponds. Creates shallow aquatic habitat in areas that used to be irrigated cropland and provides habitat for waterbirds, amphibians, and aquatic reptiles. Habitat ponds may be anywhere in a system of irrigated fields but are typically placed in rice fields where there are cold water inputs.
  7. Wetland restoration. Deleveling areas for wetland restoration to create long-term habitat, at least 15 years, on land that used to be irrigated rice to provide aquatic habitat for waterbirds, breeding waterfowl, waders, amphibians and aquatic reptiles.
The geographic focus of the Waterbird Habitat Enhancement RCPP is the rice production region of the Sacramento Valley and includes Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.


Amber Till, State RCPP Coordinator
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Davis State Office, California
Phone: 530-792-5603