Thursday, August 04, 2016

New Program Pays Central Valley Farmers to Grow Wildlife Habitat

California’s drought is taking its toll on wildlife. Years of sub-par precipitation have cut the amount of water available for wildlife refuges that supply critical habitat and food for waterfowl and other migratory birds. Reduced river flows are pushing endangered fish species to the brink. Riparian forests have also been impacted by the drought, as well as by groundwater over-pumping. As well as the drought, increased development, population growth, pollution and other pressures have almost eliminated most of the vital riparian and wetland habitat that a number of endangered species need to survive. To combat this, the Environmental Defense Fund, along with a partner organization, has launched the Central Valley Habitat Exchange, a voluntary program that gives landowners – farmers and ranchers – incentives to create wildlife habitats on their land. To understand how a market-based system for habitat protection works and who benefits, Water Deeply spoke to Ann Hayden, the senior director of the California Habitat Exchange and Western Water program at the Environmental Defense Fund. Ann Hayden: The Habitat Exchange program we are developing throughout the country is aimed at creating incentives for farmers and ranchers to create habitat benefits on their land while maintaining agricultural productivity. In a sense, they would be getting paid to grow habitat in the same way they grow crops – it’s an additional commodity they would get paid for. We started looking at the Central Valley out of the recognition that over 90 percent of habitat for wetlands and floodplains and riparian habitat-types have been decimated. Since so much of our state is in farmland, it seems like a natural fit that farmers and ranchers should be brought into the fold to help meet conservation goals, and not just rely on land acquisition or looking to conservation banks. Those are valid tools that exist, but we think bringing farmers and ranchers to the table will bring in so much more habitat, while allowing agricultural productivity to be maintained...more

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