by Matt Young
The Central Valley of California historically has supported some of the largest concentrations of waterfowl in North America. As recently as the 1970s, more than 10 million ducks and geese either migrated through or wintered in the valley. Unfortunately, a widespread loss of wetlands has caused sharp declines in the numbers of waterfowl and other migratory birds that visit the region. In response, Ducks Unlimited established its Valley CARE program in 1993 to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands and other waterfowl habitats in the Central Valley. These efforts, conducted in partnership with duck clubs, farmers, conservation organizations, and government agencies, provide critical habitat for wintering waterfowl and other wildlife and help support California's rich waterfowling tradition.
An excellent example of where DU and its partners are working to conserve waterfowl habitat in the Central Valley is the 7,000-acre Rancho Esquon, owned by longtime DU supporter and Diamond Legacy Sponsor Ken Hofmann. Like many other properties in the area, the majority of the ranch is managed for rice production. Following the harvest, the fields are flooded to help decompose rice straw and provide feeding and resting habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds. In addition, more than 1,100 acres of former rice fields have been restored as seasonal wetlands, vernal pools, riparian habitat, and upland nesting cover. Another 240 acres of natural wetlands are being restored with a grant from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.
These habitats support tremendous numbers of migratory waterfowl during the fall and winter months, while in the spring and summer, they harbor growing numbers of breeding mallards, wood ducks, and other waterfowl species.