DAVIS, Calif., Jan. 21, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) today teamed with Audubon California and the Western United Dairymen organizations to announce an innovative new conservation project to boost habitat and outreach work for the threatened Tricolored Blackbird. The partnership was announced at an event held at the Sacramento Zoo, which has been collecting donations to help the struggling bird.
"We are excited and energized by this new opportunity to both protect a sensitive species, native to California, and increase sustainability for California's dairy industry," said NRCS State Conservationist Carlos Suarez. "Both the species and the industry have much to gain from this new partnership."
This project will provide $1.1 million to address factors that challenge dairy farmers and threaten Tricolored Blackbird populations, with the goal of finding a sustainable solution for management of colonies on farms and saving the species from extinction. In addition to using working lands programs and wetland easements to protect and increase habitat, an educational campaign will help increase awareness of farmers' role in saving the species in the San Joaquin valley.
"Because these birds are going to continue nesting on dairy farms for the foreseeable future, partnering with the farmers to protect them is critical," said Brigid McCormack, executive director of Audubon California. "This project also takes the vital step of creating habitat safely off of farms for the birds."
Tricolored Blackbirds historically nested in vast wetlands of the Central Valley, but as that habitat has declined, the birds have established large nesting colonies in triticale, the plant that dairymen feed their cows. Unfortunately, harvest season coincides with the birds' nesting season. When these fields are harvested before young birds have fledged, thousands of eggs and nestlings can be lost. In recent years, Audubon California has partnered with the NRCS and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to support farmers who delay harvests to allow the young birds to fledge. This new grant takes those partnerships to a whole new level.
In addition to delayed harvest the new partnership will work to entice the birds to nearby wetland easements where they will be able to nest without creating problems for the farmers. Selected easements will be supplied with water and planted with crops preferred by tricolored blackbirds.
A survey of Tricolored Blackbirds completed last year showed that the bird's has declined 44 percent since 2011, prompting the California Department of Fish and Game to approve an emergency listing under the state Endangered Species Act earlier this year.
This partnership is one of six distinct conservation projects selected in California through the new NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). RCPP was created in the 2014 Farm Bill. Each project has its own set of conservation benefits, specific goals and management practices. Nationally, 100 projects were selected receiving $370 million in total.
Four of the selected projects benefit agricultural lands geographically located within California, and two additional projects provide conservation benefits on a multi-state level. The four projects that are totally within California borders will receive approximately $12 million with partners providing matching resources to implement the work. The work will tap into resources from both the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.
RCPP selected competitive conservation projects, designed by local partners specifically for their state or region. Eligible partners included private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives.
SOURCE USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service