Agricultural lands provide an opportunity to produce food for people as well as habitat for wildlife. Point Blue believes that we can use our science to suggest ways to grow food, support wildlife, and keep the environment thriving.
Rice is one of the most basic food resources feeding people worldwide, but its importance for wildlife is less well-known. Ninety-five percent of the vast wetlands that once occurred in California’s Central Valley have been largely converted to agriculture. Further pressure on water availability is likely given the changing climate and the ever-growing human population. Flooding fields can contribute to green house gas emissions. Despite these challenges, properly-managed flooded rice fields are important for the survival of many kinds of birds, and for producing food for people around the world.
Working together with rice farmers, Audubon California, The Nature Conservancy, the California Rice Commission, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), we are studying the different methods of managing rice fields and providing recommendations on how to develop long-term solutions that benefit humans and wildlife. This includes investigating how green house gas reducing practices will affect birds.
We helped over 200 California rice growers, with the above partners, implement bird friendly growing practices on almost 112,000 acres of ricelands. This achievement, which benefits rice growers through cost share payments provided under conservation programs in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 Farm Bill), depended on the strong partnership of all groups involved, but could not have been possible without the technical resources of California NRCS staff.
At Point Blue, we are concerned about the long-term sustainability of management practices in agriculture that benefit humans and wildlife. In addition to conducting studies and assisting with government programs, we communicate one-on-one with producers and host workshops to share information about wildlife conservation needs in their regions and discuss ways for them to help, while meeting their bottom line. We generate outreach materials to view online or carry in the field to increase awareness and provide useful information to inform conservation. In addition, with our partners, we are studying the feasibility of creating market mechanisms that would cover the costs that producers incur when changing management of their farms to benefit wildlife.
Read a recent publication brief about this work: Rice Field Management to Increase Habitat Value for Waterbirds
Explore Riceland Bird Profiles of 10 species, prepared by Point Blue in collaboration with the CA Rice Commission
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California is also a major producer of corn, alfalfa, wheat, and potatoes, three other important food crops for people that also provide habitat for many kinds of birds.
On Staten Island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (owned by The Nature Conservancy and operated by Conservation Farms and Ranches), Point Blue biologists, working with The Nature Conservancy, found that a mix of dry and flooded crops (corn, wheat, potatoes) supports a high level of waterbird diversity.
Working with Audubon California and The Nature Conservancy we are studying the wildlife benefits of flooding forage crops in fall, a time of year when the amount of open, shallow water in the Central Valley is very small and when thousands of migrating waterbirds are returning to the region.
We are beginning an exciting new study looking at waterbird use of all major crop types throughout the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, an area that may experience a large amount of change in the future, for example with changing crop types, infrastructure associated with California’s water management system, and sea level rise. Point Blue aims to understand how wildlife habitat, and thus wildlife populations, will change in response and to help guide conservation decisions in the region.
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