A new effort in the House Appropriations Subcommittee to divert nearly all funding for Central Valley wildlife refuge water to water contractors could have devastating results for migratory birds, according to representatives of Audubon California. The move is being made on the Water and Energy Appropriations bill. Audubon California asserts the move would subvert the Central Valley Project Improvement Act of 1992, which mandated certain levels of water for 19 Central Valley refuges to make up for the mass destruction of wetland habitat that resulted from the water management of the Central Valley Project.
“Taking the tiny fraction of water from the refuges is going to do little or nothing to alleviate the pain of the drought, but it will have enormous consequences for the millions of birds that rely on these habitat areas,” said Mike Lynes, director of public policy for Audubon California. “It’s hard not to see this as a straightforward attack on bird conservation.”
Lynes noted that migratory birds have been suffering right along with every other interest in the Central Valley. The move in the House of Representatives come on the heels of new data on waterfowl breeding populations in California, which show a 20 percent decline in the number of breeding Mallards over last year. According the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which conducts the annual survey, the total number of breeding ducks is also 23 percent below the long-term average. The results speak to the degradation of Central Valley habitat due to the ongoing drought. Audubon California expects things to get worse as flocks of bird migrate to California in fall and find little habitat or food with which to survive on.
A century ago, Central Valley wetlands supported 40 million migrating waterfowl along the Pacific Flyway. By the 1980s, however, 95 percent of those wetlands had been lost to the creation of the great agricultural engine and communities that make up the Valley today. The 19 Central Valley wetland refuges are the last vestiges of that habitat, and millions of birds depend on them for survival.
Acknowledging the massive impacts to wildlife from federal irrigation, Congress in 1992 passed the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) to support habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife in the Central Valley. This legislation mandated minimum allocations of water to the network of federal wildlife refuges, state wildlife areas and private wetlands in the Central Valley.
“Clearly, those who have never supported wildlife conservation are looking to take advantage of the drought crisis to advance a very specific agenda,” added Lynes. “What California needs is a common sense response to the drought that will provide water for communities and agriculture without destroying the investments we have made in our natural resources.”
(Ross’s Geese at the Merced NWR by Jan Arendtsz)