Restoring the grasslands
Five years ago, Kerry’s duck club was nothing more than marginal farmland used to raise sugar beets and to store agricultural wastewater. In 2001, Kerry bought the property, which was enrolled in the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), a Farm Bill conservation program administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that pays landowners to restore and protect wetlands on marginal agricultural lands with conservation easements. Although WRP has only been available to landowners since 1992, the program has contributed significantly to wetland conservation efforts in California. This year, WRP enrollment in the state will likely surpass 100,000 acres.
Funding assistance for the restoration work on Kerry’s property was provided by several government agencies and conservation organizations, including the NRCS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, California Wildlife Conservation Board, Central Valley Joint Venture, and Ducks Unlimited through a grant from The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. DU biologists and engineers provided technical assistance to restore the natural hydrology on this historic wetland, and heavy construction equipment was used to recontour land, develop gravity-fed irrigation ditches, and install water-control structures. These improvements made it possible for the property to receive a reliable supply of irrigation water and to be intensively managed for waterfowl.
To date, DU has helped restore or enhance more than 119,000 acres of wetlands on 204 projects in the Grasslands, the largest concentration of DU projects outside the Prairie Pothole Region. Of this total, roughly 37,000 acres have been restored or enhanced on national wildlife refuges and state wildlife areas, which are open to the public and offer good waterfowl hunting. The San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Merced County, for example, typically receives about 10,000 visits by waterfowlers each season, and these hunters bag an average of two ducks per hunt during these visits. The USFWS has also secured conservation easements on more than 80,000 acres of private lands in the Grasslands, permanently protecting the majority of the remaining wetland habitat in the area from future development.