Concerns regarding the condition of habitat for migratory birds have resulted in the development of the Drought Relief Waterbird Program. The California Department of Water Resources is supporting the program with $8 million in funding. Rice growers and other landowners are being incentivized to flood fields in order to support habitat conditions for waterfowl.
“In its essence, it’s to provide some extra winter habitat for migratory birds that are coming to the Sacramento Valley in their annual migrations this winter. There’s a pretty big deficit of flooded habitat this year given the drought conditions,” said Luke Matthews, Wildlife Programs Manager for the California Rice Commission. “So, this program provides cost-share payments to help operate groundwater pumps to create that habitat.”
The application window for the Drought Relief Waterbird Program is relatively narrow. Applications will need to be submitted by September 20. Bids can be submitted to the California Ricelands Waterbird Foundation. The reverse auction bidding process means that it is not a fixed-cost program and that growers and landowners will have flexibility when it comes to the bidding process. “We will take a couple of weeks to review the applications and get back to the growers and property owners. Then the flooding period will start on November 1 and extend to January 31,” Matthews explained.
Several factors will be taken into consideration when selecting potential applicants for the program. Growers and landowners will need to be more than five miles away from major airports to be eligible. Certain management practices will also be considered. Matthews explained that tillage is acceptable, but heavy tillage would exclude growers from participating. Proximity to rivers and streams, along with local groundwater conditions will be weighed in the selection process. “We also factor in habitat value, the timing, the amount of water, and the cost. So, all of that goes into our selection process,” said Matthews.
Listen to the full interview below.