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California Tells Dynamic Story

Environmental messages are key for the state’s rice farmers

By Carroll Smith
Editor
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This is the time of year when many Californians are treated to some of the great wonders of nature, such as the migration of ducks, geese, cranes and many other bird species. Millions of birds winter along the Pacific Flyway, which in the Central Valley is largely comprised of rice fields and adjacent wetlands.

The California Rice Commission (CRC) is not only working with farmers and conservation groups to enhance wildlife habitat in ricelands, it is telling this story to target audiences, including legislators, decision makers, opinion leaders and the media that can influence the viability of the industry moving forward.

Outreach included three advertising campaigns during the last year that reached more than 1.5 million readers of the Sacramento Bee, Capitol Weekly and several Internet news sites. This is only the start of a longstanding effort to gain a complete picture of the environmental benefits of California rice farming and convey that story to broader audiences.

“Two hundred and thirty species of wildlife share those rice fields – they share it in harmony,” remarked News Anchor Gulstan Dart of KCRA, the top-rated TV news station in Sacramento.

Establish Effective Relationships

Another important component of this effective outreach involves cultivating strong relationships with the conservation community. The CRC works in conjunction with numerous wildlife organizations, including groundbreaking research with the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership, comprised of Audubon California, PRBO Conservation Science and The Nature Conservancy. Other key partners include Ducks Unlimited, California Waterfowl, California Wildlife Conservation Board, Central Valley Bird Club, Environmental Defense, Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, as well as state and federal wildlife agencies.

“We are delighted to work with the California Rice Commission and individual growers to further enhance the habitat value of California’s rice fields to waterbirds,” said Ellie Cohen, President and CEO of PRBO Conservation Science. “Our joint efforts are essential to conserving shorebirds, waterfowl and other birds that migrate across the entire Pacific Flyway. We look forward to our continued work together over the years ahead!”

“These relationships have grown because of our common goals,” said CRC Environmental Affairs Manager Paul Buttner. “This collective approach creates synergy for fully realizing the wildlife values in California ricelands.”

New Campaigns And Strategies

The CRC continues to support research for understanding the environmental benefits of rice. A recent Ducks Unlimited report determined that, should the state’s rice acreage be reduced in half, it would decrease the duck population in the region by approximately 1.2 million. Research planned for 2011 will take a look at how rice fields benefit raptors in the Central Valley.

Recent analysis shows the value of California rice fields to the ecosystem at $1.5 billion. This figure is based on what it would cost to offset the loss of rice fields through restoring enough wetlands to meet the needs of wintering waterfowl. These benefits from the state’s rice farms come essentially free to all Californians, as long as rice farming remains viable in the state.

The new year will mean several new ad campaigns, as well as other strategies to reach target audiences with this important story.

“We are still working on specifics for the campaigns, but much of our efforts will center on California rice as the environmental crop,” said CRC Communications Manager Jim Morris. “It would be hard to imagine a more sustainable industry than this, which provides premium-quality locally grown food, thousands of jobs and unparalleled benefits to 230 wildlife species.”

For more information about California rice and the environment and the role of the California Rice Commission, please log on to its Web site at www.calrice.org.

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