In This Issue:
|A Vision for the Great Central
"Rewilding" the Valley Floor
California's Great Central Valley is experiencing rapid transformation; agricultural lands are swiftly being converted to homes and businesses that accommodate our ever-increasing human population. Simultaneously however, more and more agricultural land is being returned-through active conservation measures - to wetlands, riparian forests, and oak woodlands. In addition, existing remnants of these same habitats are being purchased and preserved for their ecological, aesthetic, intrinsic, and utilitarian value. Californians have visionary organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, Audubon-California, and the National Wildlife Refuge system to thank for these conservation and restoration efforts.
Conservation and restoration momentum has significantly increased with the recent formation of various collaborative organizations, such as the Central Valley Habitat Joint Venture and the Riparian Habitat Joint Venture (RHJV). These organizations bring together state and federal agencies, as well as non-profit groups, to more effectively guide conservation policy and action. A dizzying number of state and federal agencies, conservation groups, and private citizens work in the state in a variety of ways, sometimes with different goals, but often with a similar outcome - habitat conservation. Recogniz-ing that the attainment of a particular goal (e.g., native plant restoration) may also contribute to the goals of other organizations (e.g., anadromous fish restoration) has created a powerful and effective conservation movement in the Central Valley.
Perhaps most encouraging was the formation of CALFED (visit http://calfed.ca.gov or read "Partnering with CalFed" in Flight Log 7), a state and federal cooperation formalized in 1994 that is committed to finding long-term solutions to ecological problems in the Bay-Delta estuary (including the Central Valley). One primary program objective of CALFED is to improve ecosystem quality - increasing the quantity, diversity and quality of aquatic and terrestrial habitats and to improve ecological functions in the Bay-Delta system to support increased and sustainable populations of diverse and valuable plant and animal species. Already CALFED has granted over $32 million for riparian protection and restoration projects in the Central Valley with expected expenditures of over $ 1 billion in the next 20 to 30 years (see Flight Log 7, summer 1997).
First and foremost, we should continue to rehabilitate areas that have experienced severe environmental damage, preserve existing habitat, and restore lost habitat. These actions will remain the core elements in our efforts to restore fully functioning ecosystems, helping to fulfill the broader goals of creating bigger core reserves and establishing connections between these reserves. Ultimately, such habitat restoration and augmentation will help restore those species, known as keystone species, whose role in ecosystem processes is far-reaching enough that they influence ecosystem function in significant ways.
These goals, developed and deemed rewilding (a key conservation strategy of the Wildlands Project) by conservation biologists Michael Soulè and Reed Noss have their foundations rooted in the regulatory roles of large predators and other keystone species. While top predators are most often keystone species, so are other species, such as beavers and cavity-excavating birds. Essentially, keystone species transform landscapes or provide critical resources.
How will large interconnected reserves benefit birds whose breeding territories can be as small as a single acre? "Bigness" and interconnectedness are justified by a wide variety of reasons not exclusive to birds. Not only do large cores of protected landscape add habitat for breeding, migratory, and wintering birds they also have the potential to become healthy ecosystems through the use of various management and restoration recommendations (e.g., managed flood events).
Useful ecosystem management information currently exists for many taxa in the Central Valley. For example, science-based management and restoration recommendations for riparian associated birds are available now thanks to California Partners in Flight and the RHJV (in the Riparian Bird Conservation plan). Ideally, these large cores of protected landscapes will contain a variety of habitat types: wetlands that grade into a young willow-dominated forest, that grades into a valley oak stand, that grades into grasslands or oak savanna, and finally into the higher elevations.
Interconnectedness is also essential because large core reserves may not even be large enough to insure the long-term viability of many birds (as well as far-ranging species and migratory species, such as anadromous fishes). An excellent example of the need for connectivity exists in the Sacramento Valley today. Song Sparrows occur as common breeders in the Butte Sink area, corresponding to the bulk of the remaining wetlands. However, they are increasingly less common, to virtually non-existent, as you move northwest through three national wildlife refuges. The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge - seemingly sufficient habitat in size and plant community - is located less than 15 miles from the Butte Sink area, yet contains no breeding Song Sparrows.
Linking Valley habitats
The most biologically sound conservation requires intrepid planning and implementation. Ultimately, the benefits of planning a network of quality habitat areas in the Central Valley go beyond the Valley floor. In such planning, the Valley has the potential to become an important link in a larger chain of habitat protection (California Partners in Flight is already working on habitat based conservation plans for oak woodlands, grasslands, and scrub). Linking the Valley to upland habitats may have profound positive effects for wildlife conservation in California.
Agriculture and Conservation
Farming can co-exist and contribute to conservation in the Central Valley in a varietyof ways. For instance, the preservation and creation of native habitat on farms is one idea currently championed by the Yolo County Resource Conservation District (instructional materials are available from Yolo County Resource District in Woodland, CA) and recognized by conservationists. This kind of conservation and preservation takes place in the form of planting native hedgerows and revegetating canals and levees, among other activities. Organic farming, intercropping, and no-till farming are three farming methods in existence that can accommodate and benefit wildlife and biodiversity. More cooperation, creative thinking, various farm incentives, and scientific research should act in concert to continue making farms more wildlife friendly.
The Return of Top predators
The Central Valley of California was a vast grassland prairie, where wetlands dominated the lowest areas and huge riparian forests (sometimes 10 miles wide) cut the landscape from end to end. Most of the Valley graded irregularly into foothill and oak woodlands of the Coast and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges where grizzly bear, gray wolf, mountain lion, and tule elk once roamed the Valley floor. Now, with the exception of a few mountain lions straying from the more forested foothills and populations of tule elk confined to fenced paddocks, the Valley has lost its large and important mammals.
So take a moment to imagine the song of the Least Bell’s Vireo returning to the Sacramento Valley, or any of the other feats we may accomplish with cooperation and a clear vision. After all, "The greatest impediment to rewilding is an unwillingness to imagine it." (Soule, M. and R. Noss. 1998. Rewilding and biodiversity: Complementary goals for continental conservation. Wild Earth 8:18-28)
In September of 1998, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation awarded support to the the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), and the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO) for their new Pacific States Conservation initiative. The objective of this collaborative effort is to complete Partners in Flight bird conservation plans for all the major bird habitats of California, Oregon and Washington. ABC has hired Bob Altman (firstname.lastname@example.org) to spearhead plan development in Oregon and Washington. Conservation priorities and summaries for OR/WA will be posted at www.gorge.net/ natres/pif.html as they are developed. PRBO’s Geoff Geupel (ggeupel at prbo dot org), California chair of PIF, is organizing plan development for the habitats of California (see Flight Log 7, Summer 1998). The California conservation plan information is posted at www.prbo.org. The goal is to produce draft plans by June 1999.
The Pacific States Conservation program includes $450,000 of Packard funds to which NFWF will add another $450,000, providing a total of $900,000 in funds to be awarded as matching grants in 1999/2000. Grant awards will support habitat conservation projects identified through the PIF conservation planning process. Organizations seeking to implement cutting-edge habitat conservation projects in the Pacific states should contact Greg Elliott, Manager of NFWF’s Western Bird Conservation program, at 415-868-2882 or email@example.com for more information. NFWF grant guidelines are available at the website www.nfwf.org. Projects will be selected not only according to their ability to effectively conserve and manage habitat, but also their scientific rigor, strategic focus and outreach to key constituencies affected by conservation in their local area. For project awards in 1999 the deadline for receiving a one- to two-page “pre-proposal” describing potential Pacific States projects is June 15, 1999.
First Draft of the Riparian Bird Conservation Plan Available for Public Comment
The Riparian Habitat Joint Venture of California announces the release of the draft Riparian Bird Conservation Plan, developed in partnership with key ornithologists, conservation organizations and government agencies throughout the state. This draft document is now available for public review and comment at the Point Reyes Bird Observatory’s website (www.prbo.org/CalPIF/htmldocs/Riparian.html) or you may contact Lyann Comrack (firstname.lastname@example.org) to receive a copy free of charge. Comments may be sent directly to Greg Elliott (email@example.com). We are particularly seeking input from land managers.
The Riparian Plan creates a comprehensive synthesis of state-of-the-art science concerning birds in riparian habitats, offering over 40 specific recommendations for ways in which land use, conservation projects, agricultural lands, and habitat restoration may be most effectively managed to benefit our native avifauna. It is our hope that these recommendations will be adopted by land managers, restorationists, private landowners and policy makers whenever possible and appropriate.
The release of the Plan in January 1999 could not have been more timely. As the Plan was going to press, no less than five major initiatives were underway in California that promise to immensely influence the way in which riparian conservation will be undertaken throughout the early decades of the 21st century. These programs include the CALFED Bay-Delta Program, the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basins Comprehensive Study of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Central Valley Habitat Joint Venture, the combined programs of the California Biodiversity Council and the Coordinated Resource Management Plan Council, and the SB 1086 Program (which establishes a “meander zone” along the Sacramento River). These initiatives are complemented by literally scores of projects along specific river systems throughout the state where riparian management to benefit wildlife is emphasized.
The RHJV was established precisely because riparian areas were recognized as the single most critical habitat for conservation of neotropical migrant and resident birds in California. Indeed, throughout the arid west riparian ecosystems consistently harbor the most species-rich bird communities. In addition to productive breeding grounds, riparian habitat provides vital overwintering and migration stopover areas and corridors by which young birds can disperse after fledging. Not surprisingly, the loss of riparian habitats has been suggested as the most important cause of population decline among landbird species in western North America. In many places, restoration of habitat remains our single greatest hope for ensuring that future generations will grow up with the same birds in California that we now enjoy.
Birds are among the easiest and most cost-effective of all wildlife
to monitor, helping us to understand the effects of our impacts on the
environment. At over 250 sites throughout California, data on riparian
birds have been collected continuously over the past 3 to 30 years.
The Riparian Bird Conservation Plan focuses on a suite of 14 bird species
chosen because of their conservation interest and their distribution throughout
the full range of riparian habitats in the state.
2) Where complete elimination of habitat is not enough to explain a species’ decline or absence, loss of habitat structure, heterogeneity, and especially loss of a dense understory or shrub layer appear to be factors.
3) Current restoration efforts throughout the state aimed at increasing riparian habitat by restoring natural processes (such as high-water events) or managing dam releases to more closely mimic a natural system are good first steps in the direction of restoring our riparian bird populations.
4) Factors that are significantly affecting bird reproductive success are high levels of brood parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds and high predation rates by both native and non-native predators. Both factors are heavily influenced by the structure and diversity of riparian vegetation, including landscape factors, such as patterns of surrounding land use.
Restoring Habitat with the California's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is, by working with others, to conserve, protect, and enhance fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, formerly named the Partners for Wildlife program, helps accomplish this mission by offering technical and financial assistance to private landowners who wish to voluntarily restore wetlands and other fish and wildlife habitats on their land. The program emphasizes the reestablishment of native vegetation and ecological communities for the benefit of fish and wildlife in cooperation with the needs and desires of private landowners.
The program was established during 1990 in California, and has primarily focused on the restoration of wetlands, native grasslands, riparian areas, and in-stream aquatic habitats. To date, in California we have restored more than 54,000 acres of wetlands, approximately 950 acres of upland vegetation (including native grasslands), and about 40 miles of riparian vegetation. These restored areas now provide important food, cover, and water for migratory birds (e.g. waterfowl, waders, shorebirds, songbirds, and birds of prey), threatened and endangered species, as well as other important species. Many of our projects are located near existing National Wildlife Refuges, and thus, provide increased benefits to wildlife that rely on these Refuge lands for survival.
The program provides financial assistance to landowners in the form of cost-share payments. By partnering on a wildlife project with the Service, the landowner agrees to maintain the project for a minimum of 10 years through a voluntary contractual agreement. However, the agreement can be for a longer term. Aside from cost-share payments, other types of assistance available under the program include design and management of restoration projects, dirt moving, reseeding, and advice and information on a variety of restoration issues.
In addition to partnering with private landowners, the program strives to establish partnerships with a variety of individuals and groups that have similar goals. Our partners include other Federal agencies, Tribes, state and local governments, conservation organizations, businesses and industries, and school groups. Partners can assist with any component of the project including contribution to the total costs.
A typical example of a wetland restoration project may include the use
of heavy equipment to reconstruct historical topography of leveled agricultural
land, and constructing dikes or levees and installing water control structures
to restore the wetland hydrology. A characteristic riparian restoration
might include the installation of livestock control fencing and bank and
in-stream reconstruction through bioengineering techniques. Re-vegetation
with native trees and shrubs may require a drip irrigation system to ensure
adequate water until riparian vegetation becomes established. Some
of our more exemplary projects have also included the restoration of associated
uplands. These projects incur more management costs, but may also
be attractive to a more diverse array of species, especially where these
vegetative communities are critically limited. The removal of invasive,
exotic vegetation in these areas often requires a combined approach of
controlled burning and herbicide application. Seeding with native
perennial grasses and other vegetation is followed by an aggressive 3 year
Conservation Plans Update
Following the model of the Riparian Bird Conservation Plan, five new plans are being developed by California Partners in Flight: oak woodlands, cis-montane scrub, grasslands, mixed-conifer, and the region of the Sierra Nevada. For each plan, species accounts will be written for species representative of each habitat. Then, plan authors will use that information to develop a series of recommendations to be included in the forthcoming bird conservation plans.
Conservation priorities identified in this plan could begin benefiting birds immediately: the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and other agencies intend to use the recommendations to guide their decision process in selecting habitat conservation projects in California over the next few years (see Packard, PIF and the Pacific States, this issue).
Break-out groups for each habitat are in the process of meeting to discuss the species accounts and habitat conservation issues. Final drafts of the plans will be out in late June or early July.
Again we urge everyone to become involved in the process. If you are
unable to attend CPIF meetings and have relevant information, please contact
Lyann Comrack at firstname.lastname@example.org or Geoff Geupel at ggeupel at prbo dot org.
Updates, including species accounts, meeting minutes, and drafts of the
plans will be posted on the CPIF Bird Conservation Plan webpage at http://www.prbo.org/CPIF/Consplan.html.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Diana Humple)
Lark Sparrow (Will Richardson)
Oak Titmouse (Moe Flannery)
Western Bluebird (Mike Lynes)
Western Scrub-jay (Sue Guers)
Yellow-billed Magpie (Mark Reynolds)
Cis-montane lowland shrublands
John Lovio, US Navy
Phone: (619) 532-1166
Coastal Cactus Wren (Laszlo Szijj)
Wrentit (Geoff Geupel)
Nuttall's White-crowned Sparrow (Nadav Nur)
Rufous-crowned Sparrow (Ron Huffman)
Black-chinned Sparrow (John Lovio)
Bell's Sage Sparrow (John Lovio)
Coastal Lesser Nighthawk (John Lovio)
Greater Roadrunner (Pete Famolaro)
(Coastal) Costa's Hummingbird (PRBO)
Sierra Nevada Meadows
Rodney Siegel, Institute for Bird Populations
Phone: (415) 663-2051
The Institute for Bird Populations is currently preparing a draft conservation plan for birds in the Sierra Nevada. We are analyzing Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) data, as well as information from other sources, to produce a list of priority species for conservation and monitoring within the Sierra. The draft conservation plan will focus heavily on habitat conservation priorities, however, rather than species-specific conservation measures. We have identified four priority habitat types for conservation actions within the Sierra— montane meadows, primary-channel riparian vegetation, late seral/old growth forest, and oak woodland. We welcome input on any aspect of avian conservation in the Sierra; please direct suggestions or comments to Rodney Siegel at email@example.com or (415) 663-2051.
Bob Allen, Cal. Dept. Fish & Game
Phone: (209) 826-0463
Northern Harrier (Kristi Cripe, DFG)
Grasshopper Sparrow (Victor Lyon, USFWS)
Mountain Plover (Kevin Hunting, DFG)
Ferruginous Hawk (Kevin Hunting, DFG)
Genny Wilson, USDA Forest Service
The newly created Mixed Conifer Conservation Plan group will hold two meetings in the coming months to establish a focal species list and to classify forest types for inclusion in the plan. The plan authors strongly encourage interested parties from all regions in California to be involved. Please contact them for more information.
California IBA Update
The California Important Bird Areas (IBA) program has experienced some changes over the past year. Audubon-California has strengthened its partnership with American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and we are now working closely together toward our common goal: identifying and protecting California’s IBAs.
Last year, there was a rush to acquire all the sites in the state for ABC’s publication of National, Continental, and Global IBAs. This proved to be larger project than anticipated and ABC decided to narrow the publication down to the top 250 Global IBAs in the country. As a result, work is being done in cooperation with Partners in Flight, Audubon-California, and Audubon chapters, and PRBO, to identify California’s top Global IBAs.
We are also working to rejuvenate the IBA Technical Committee.
The function of the technical committee is to review nominated sites that
do not meet the criteria for National, Continental, or Global status.
Since the focus last year was on sites that did meet the criteria, the
technical committee was not applicable.
Currently, there are 39 IBAs in California. Of these, 23 have been designated Global, 9 are Continental, and 7 are National. Sixteen sites are waiting to be reviewed by the technical committee. Nomination forms are being completed for Grasslands Ecological Area in Los Banos and the Spenceville Wildlife Area. For a complete list of IBAs in California, or for additional information on the IBA Program, contact Kathy Gilbert at the above number, or Bob Barnes, Director of Bird Conservation Programs, firstname.lastname@example.org, (760) 378-3044.
Humboldt Bay approved as WHSRN site
On September 13, 1998 the Humboldt Bay Complex was officially accepted as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site. The internationally recognized WHSRN network, promoted by Manomet, Inc. in Massachusetts, has established a series of locations important to breeding, nesting, and migrating shorebirds (Charadriiformes) within the western hemisphere.
Accepted into the Humboldt Bay Complex are approximately 5000 acres of land currently in refuge status managed by the California Department of Fish and Game and Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Through the effort of Chet Ogan, Keith Slauson, Paul Springer, and many others, the California Northcoast Chapter of The Wildlife Society and Redwood Region Audubon, with support letters from Pacific Coast Joint Ventures, The Nature Conservancy, and the California Coastal Commission, submitted the nomination paperwork.
The Humboldt Bay complex has gained recognition as a site of International Importance for the migration stopover and over-wintering site for numerous species of shorebirds. WHSRN encourages the wise use of shorebird habitat and promotes management policies that meet the needs of both the birds and the people that depend on the area. Designation as a WHSRN site recognizes the significance of the habitat but there are no binding formal obligations for landowners who may nominate their land into the network. There are no costs or legal obligations and participants may withdraw at any time. Land management remains the prerogative of landowners.
The Humboldt Bay region contains over 195 square kilometers of mud flats, tidal estuaries, salt and freshwater marsh, waterways, and pasture lands that provide forage and resting areas for over 30 species of shorebirds. During peak spring and fall migration over 200,000 shorebirds may be present. Over 15% of the world population of marbled godwits over-winter in the Humboldt Bay area, including virtually the entire population of the Aleutian subspecies (Limosa fedoa beringia) as well as large numbers of western sandpipers and dunlin. For seven to eight months each year shorebirds can be seen winging and feeding over the wetlands complex for hours on end. The total number of shorebirds involved probably numbers greater than one million.
Future plans include adding additional cooperators such as the Arcata Marsh Project and Jane's Creek addition, Eureka's PALCO Marsh, and Humboldt County park lands.
Surveying for Trumpeter Swans in the California
By Rod Hug
USFWS and The Trumpeter Swan Society want to document trumpeter swans wintering in California. This is part of a national survey of trumpeter swans this winter. The hope is that trumpeters are extending their wintering areas, possibly the key to continued trumpeter restoration and permanent survival. Geographical diversity of quality winter habitat is considered the most needed element in the restoration plan. Winter use of California would be an especially valuable asset to insure long-term survival.
More than 700 trumpeters hazed from the Yellowstone region this winter can no longer be located by mid-winter aerial surveys. Managers hope that most are still alive and would like to determine where they are wintering. It is likely that some of these "missing" trumpeters are camouflaged among the routine vast flocks of tundra swans in the western states, including California.
A few years ago Ruth Shea, president of The Trumpeter Swan Society, her husband Rod, Tracy Albro and Jim Snowden found 20 trumpeter swans in California. The trumpeters were scattered from the Modoc NWR to the Sacramento Delta.
This year's survey is concentrating on the Delta, Central Valley, and northern parts of Calif. All of the Audubon chapters in the northern part of the state, including Sacramento, Alcatel, Madrone, Mt. Shasta, Eagle Lake, and Klamath have members watching for Trumpeters. California Dept. of Water Recourses, Central Valley Bird Club, Dept. of Fish and Game, USFWS people and others are also watching for trumpeters. Furthermore, Jim Snowden, a retired DFG biologist, has been commissioned by USFWS to survey trumpeter and tundra swans between the Delta and Red Bluff.
To date four trumpeter sightings have been reported: one at the Cosumnes River Preserve on November 16, 1998 (Mark Ackerman); one in District 10, about 6 miles north of Marysville on December 16, 1998 (Jim Snowden); five in Trinity County on December 30, 1998 (Mike Feighner).
When observers happen upon a banded swan and manage to record its identification, we can trace the bird’s history. For example, Bruce Webb reported seeing a banded trumpeter accompanied by a probable trumpeter cygnet about 6 miles North of Sacramento in western Placer County on December 22, 1998. The adult was wearing a green neckband with white code 93V. USFWS records show that this swan was banded by Ruth Shea and released on the Bear River, Idaho on 11/7/96. The swan has subsequently been seen at Camas NWR, northern Idaho (3/11/97), Ennis Lake, southern Montana (3/23/97), and Regina area, Saskatchewan (10/25/97). Ruth Shea believes that swan 93V is the first banded trumpeter to be seen in California that was not from Summer Lake, Oregon.
Because of many similarities, trumpeter and tundra swans may difficult to separate from each other. Trumpeter swans may be distiguished from tundra swans by their voice diagnostic (listen on website http://www.taiga.net/swans/swanid.html), larger size, flat bills, head shape, and facial characteristics (see table below). Although some of these characteristics are strong hints, none except hearing the call are by themselves diagnostic. Observers should see several together.
Bird Song Tape
California Gnatcatcher Symposium Proceedings
The Identification Guide to North American Birds,
Subscribe to the CPIF Listserver
California Dept. of Fish & Game: www.dfg.ca.gov
Coyote Creek Riparian Station: members.aol.com/NEOBIRD/index.html
Flight Log Online: www.prbo.org/calpif/flightlog/flightlog.htm
The Information Center for the Environment (ICE): ice.ucdavis.edu
Institute for Bird Populations: www.birdpop.org
La Tangara Online: www.rsl.psw.fs.fed.us/pif/news.html
National Audubon Society: www.audubon.org
National Partners In Flight Home Page: www.partnersinflight.org
Point Reyes Bird Observatory: www.prbo.org
USDA Forest Service, Redwood Sciences Laboratory (also home of the Monitoring & Working Group and International Working Group pages): www.rsl.psw.fs.fed.us/pif/index.html
PIF California Coordinator
PIF California Chair
We would like to thank the following sponsors: The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the Winifred and Harry B. Allen Foundation, Chevron Corporation, and the Shell Oil Company Foundation.