California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife contributes US$15M to BirdReturns Program, a joint initiative by Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership, which uses data analytics to create temporary wetlands for declining migratory bird species

Sample article from our Government & Public Policy

October 5, 2023 (press release) –

The BirdReturns Program helps to identify and create cost-effective temporary wetlands for water birds and other wildlife.

On behalf of the the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership (MBCP), which includes The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Audubon California and Point Blue Conservation Science, TNC has entered into an agreement with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) for CDFW to provide up to $15,000,000 in funding for habitat enhancement work through the BirdReturns Program over the next three years. Established in 2014, BirdReturns creates temporary wetlands when and where birds need them most in a targeted, data-driven and cost-effective manner.

“This is the biggest public investment into BirdReturns to date,” said Ryan Luster, Senior Project Director at TNC. “We are ecstatic that the Partnership is receiving such strong support, leadership and funding from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, so that we can continue to provide much-needed habitat for birds and other wildlife, as well as scale up our efforts.”

To complete their life cycles, migratory species may have varied but temporary habitat needs spread over vast areas. If any key linkages of the migratory route are lost, the species may soon follow. For millennia, the wetlands of California have provided a critical linkage for water birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway between the Arctic and Patagonia. Yet, most of the once extensive wetland complexes in the State have been lost—converted to one of the most productive agricultural landscapes in the world. As a partial consequence, most migratory bird populations in California are in precipitous decline and shorebird populations continue to decline at a rate that would result in them being practically non-existent in the Sacramento Valley or even the entire Pacific Flyway between the Arctic and South America in 40-50 years.

However, using data analytics and citizen science, the BirdReturns Program holds reverse auctions to target specific places and times, paying agricultural and wetland landowners to provide seasonal habitat on their property by flooding their fields at critical times in ways that diversify the habitat available for birds and other wildlife, allowing them to thrive.

Over the last nine years, the Partnership has conducted 18 auctions and delivered over 120,000 acres of seasonal habitat for migratory water birds at a cost (projected over time) of less than 10% of the traditional cost of land protection through fee ownership, conservation easement or lease. While this innovative approach can efficiently deliver meaningful cost-effective conservation returns, there remain significant barriers to scaling. To lower this barrier, the MBCP seeks to engage a broader community of landowners over larger landscapes in California, leveraging the co-benefits that dynamic water management for birds can offer different communities.

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