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Central Valley wetlands have almost all disappeared

Kern River December 10, 2021
Posted at 3:32 PM, Dec 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-31 21:32:46-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The Central Valley is known for oil and agriculture, but it's also a desired destination for more than 100 million birds.

That is because the wetlands that were here decades ago have made this area part of their migration pattern.

Because of city growth, and climate change wetlands have almost all disappeared, but could there be a solution now that several state organizations are working to protect these bird habitats.

“There's all sorts of uses that this land has been put to and if we can carve out little chunks of that and restore that back to the natural wetland function. It provides so many benefits for wildlife as well as the communities that live there,” said Michael Rogner, Senior Restoration Ecologist for River Partners.

Rogner said the decline in bird populations is intersectional and affects us as much as it does the birds.

“You are generating more clean water for people to draw from and drink, you are generating more recreational opportunities,” said Rogner.

Those working on this effort have come together as the Central Valley Joint Venture, to create a plan that could be followed across the state, saying a guide like this was necessary to make a real impact.

“In some cases, we will look to restore the land and create new riverside forest, other times we can work with landowners, with agriculture to provide some temporary seasonal habitat,” said Jim Cogswell, coordinator for Central Valley Joint Venture.

Throughout the decades many of the wetlands have been turned into farming land for agriculture, now the plan is to pay farmers using state grant money to pump up water to flood those fields during the nesting periods for these birds. This essentially creates a temporary man-made wetland.

“In doing so, it provides the farmer the benefit of decomposing the agriculture residue that remains after harvest. In addition, it provides vital habitat for the migrating birds that depend on finding suitable habitat in the central valley,” said Cogswell.

Cogswell is not just talking about a couple of birds. In North America, there are about 800 species of birds, and around half of them pass through the Central Valley.

At the root of this, is water. An issue already prevalent in the state and in Kern County.

“Water cost and water availability, there is not a lot of it and it is expensive…privately own wetlands have decreased dramatically in the last 10 20 30 years, people just cannot afford to pay the cost even when the water is available,” said Robert Eddings the regional manager for California Waterfowl Association.

Eddings said they have a team of biologists across the state doing habitat management and wetland restoration enhancement projects but need more work at the legislative level.

“To bring attention to the impacts to wetlands and wildlife habitat in the region and see if there is a way to create exemptions or find some workaround so that they are not lumped into everything else and so that these hopefully unintended consequences are not too severe,” said Eddings.