Central Valley

The disappearing wetlands in California’s Central Valley

California has already lost 90 percent of its wetlands — climate change threatens the rest.

Volunteers count nesting sites during a November 2015 drought monitoring trip. || Audubon California.

Volunteers count nesting sites during a November 2015 drought monitoring trip. || Audubon California.

This story originally appeared in High Country News. The following text is an excerpt. Read the full story, here.

Each year, 181 species of waterfowl, shorebirds and riparian birds flock to California’s Central Valley to nest between March and July. The space they roost in is already limited: There are just 19 wetlands, comprised of National Wildlife Refuges and State Wildlife Areas, spread across little more than 270 square miles in the valley’s 22,500-square-mile expanse. But over the past five years during the state’s historic drought, those birds have returned, only to find once watery areas no longer suitable for nesting. If dry conditions persist, the little remaining space could disappear.

California scientists monitoring wetlands in the Central Valley over the past two years have documented a cascade of effects from the drought: Wetland areas are shrinking, which leads to plummeting bird populations and the spread of disease. And the drought is handicapping the few solutions that conservationists have. Promised water allocations to protect wildlife during drought haven’t arrived, and rice farmers who offer surrogate habitats in their drenched fields are switching to crops more suitable to a drier environment. 

In the last century, California wetlands have decreased by 90 percent. Over the past two years, six California Audubon chapters along with the Central Valley Joint Venture, a consortium of representatives from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited and other conservation groups, have been surveying eight wetland sites in the Central Valley to document the short-term effects of the drought on bird species. Volunteers from Audubon California venture into the field twice a month, November through March, to record birds and nesting sites. They have documented serious threats to the remaining sliver of habitat that shorebirds, ducks and migrating birds depend on.

Read the rest of this story at High Country News.