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Wildlife Conservation

California Rice Commission explores avenues to help fund habitat projects

By Paul Buttner
Environmental Affairs Manager,
California Rice Commission

 
Wildlife ConservationThere’s quite a bit of current activity in the conservation area as the California Rice Commission (CRC) continues building its “wildlife resume” and delivering programs to growers that help fund wildlife conservation projects. Our work includes exploring public sector opportunities, primarily focusing on Farm Bill programs, as well as examining market-based ecosystem services opportunities to private entities interested in purchasing wildlife benefits.

Waterbird Habitat Enhancement

With approximately 200 farms enrolled in the Waterbird Habitat Enhancement Program (WHEP) on over 100,000 acres, our efforts have now shifted to how we can make this program an ongoing option for growers.

Current Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) rules seem to be limiting the ability of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to renew contracts beyond three years. Therefore, without a creative solution to address this limitation, the WHEP contracts supporting this exceptional waterbird habitat will expire.

The CRC is working on Capitol Hill to sponsor amendments to the House version of the Farm Bill intended to help address this constraint. Representatives Garamendi and LaMalfa were very supportive and effective at helping us get this language in place.

Regional Conservation Partnership

Over the past several years, the CRC has focused on a new proposal in both the House and Senate Farm Bills called Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). This program will designate conservation funding to be directed to certain specially designated regions. We believe that the large-scale conservation benefits provided by California rice may be appropriate for such a designation. We worked closely with Senate Ag Committee staff to insert an amendment that would make wildlife habitat for migratory birds an important feature to be considered when making such designations.

New Program Opportunity

Currently called BirdReturns, we have worked with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to develop this new opportunity utilizing private donor funds to incentivize growers to employ certain waterbird conservation practices. In this first pilot year, the BirdReturns program identifies three conservation practice options for rice farmers to manage water to benefit a variety of shorebirds. The pilot will focus on the creation of spring habitat (February through March) on acres not currently enrolled in WHEP.

TNC will offer conservation contracts to interested growers in a competitive bidding manner. This bidding and selection process took place in November 2013. TNC will ultimately contract with the most competitive bids, comparing participants in similar localities and of equal habitat value.

We appreciate the willingness of TNC and its private donors to invest conservation funding in ricelands to further enhance the value of rice fields as wildlife habitat.

Contact Buttner at pbuttner@calrice.org.

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