The Vital Role of Private Land in Conservation

By Luke Matthews

Typically, when people think about the word conservation, many probably have images of protected lands and National Parks such as Yellowstone or Yosemite. While these national parks and other protected areas are critical for conservation, it is important to recognize that the ability to create more of these areas is very limited. In order to continue with conservation work across the nation, conservationists also focus on another type of land, private lands, which play a significant and often underappreciated role.

Private lands conservation comes in many forms but the general concept is the same: willing landowners enroll their properties into programs with the objective of providing a conservation benefit on their lands. Farmers within the California rice industry are no exception. Many farmers in the Sacramento Valley enroll their rice fields into a variety of conservation programs. These programs on working lands create a unique opportunity for farmers to increase the wildlife benefits of their farms and still produce food such as rice. The rice farmers that participate in these programs not only provide a benefit for their farms but are also helping support wildlife population in the Sacramento Valley and, in the case of migratory birds, the entire western United States and Canada!

While there are many conservation programs and organizations that help run them, here are just a few of the current programs that are available to rice growers in California.

The California Winter Rice Habitat Incentive Program
This program is run by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife and its primary objective is to support critical winter flooded habitat on private rice farms for migratory waterfowl.

The Bid4Birds Program
This program is run by the California Ricelands Waterbird Foundation and has been working with rice framers to create critical shorebird habitat on rice fields during both the Spring and Fall migrations.

US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
NRCS is a significant funder of conservation programs on farm lands and they have a variety of opportunities for farmers. The California Rice Commission was recently awarded a Grant from NRCS to create habitat for waterbirds, nesting waterfowl, upland birds, and pollinators. Enrollments for these NRCS practices are expected to be available soon.

Here’s a link to a great resource to find out how you can help our environment through conservation.

Luke Matthews is the Wildlife Programs Manager for the California Rice Commission