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Fall Wetlands

Central Valley wetlands © Lighthawk

Wetlands Program

The practice requirements and program details for Fall 2024 are currently in development. The website will be updated once this information is finalized. The 2023 information can be used for reference, but will likely be different from the 2024 details.

Central Valley Wetlands- Fall 2023

The objective of the Bird Returns Fall Wetland Program is to incentivize private wetland managers to provide early flooded habitat for migrating shorebirds, early arrival waterfowl, and molting waterfowl. By gradually flooding-up seasonal wetlands over 3 weeks between August 18th and September 30th and maintaining that water into the start of the hunting season, wetland managers can create this much needed habitat for migratory birds.

Wetlands located throughout the Central Valley and Delta are eligible for the fall program. Wetland managers are asked to meet specific conditions in their units to provide high-quality habitat for waterbirds and waterfowl, specifically shallower water depths and less than 50% emergent vegetation.

To apply for the Fall BirdReturns- Wetland Program, submit a bid consisting of the desired dollar amount per acre to create the habitat as described in the program details below.

Fall Wetland – Program Details

Application Period (CLOSED)

Thursday, June 29, 2023 – Thursday, July 20, 2023 11:59 pm

All bids are final once the application period is closed

Eligible Applicants
  • Wetland properties in the Sacramento Valley, legal Delta, and San Joaquin Valley
  • Seasonal wetland units >25 acres
  • Wetland owners with access to ground and/or surface water
Ineligible Applicants
  • Wetlands enrolled in any annual incentive program (i.e., NRCS EQIP) that provides payment to conduct flooding during the same time window (August 18 – September 30)
  • Within 5 miles of major airports, including Beale AFB, Sacramento International, Travis AFB, Fresno-Yosemite International and Lemoore Naval Air Station
  • Wetlands less than 25 acres in size
  • Wetlands located within 3 miles of incorporated cities (Mosquito Vector Control District exclusion zones)

Practice Specifications

Core flooding period:

Gradual flood-up over a 3-week period between Friday, August 18, 2023 and Saturday, September 30, 2023.

  • The application will require a selected start date from the options listed below:
    • August 18th, 2023
    • August 25th, 2023
    • September 1st, 2023
    • September 8th, 2023
Flooding requirements:
  • Each week add 1-2 inches of water for a 3-week flood-up period. Following flood-up, wetlands shall remain flooded until the hunting season.
Vegetation management:
  • Wetland must have less than 50% emergent cover/vegetation to ensure availability of habitat for shorebirds and minimize costs associated with mosquito abatement. 

Bid Ranking and Scoring Process

All bids will be ranked and scored by representatives from the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited, and the California Waterfowl Association. This committee will assess bids according to standardized methods, and use scientific tools to predict the habitat value of each bid according to its location in the landscape, history of bird use in the surrounding area, and timing. Applicants that are able to flood longer, have larger acreages, and have competitive bids will rank higher. Please contact us if you’d like additional information on scoring criteria.

Fall 2023 Available Funding: $468,000

  • Regional Distribution for Wetlands: 20% of the available funding is set aside for each of the four regions with a residual of 20%.
    • Sacramento Valley – 20%
    • Delta – 20%
    • Grasslands – 20%
    • Tulare – 20%
    • Residual – 20%

Ranking Strategy:

Primary ranking will be done at the regional level and only utilize the 20% allocation. Each region will be ranked and funded independently, to ensure that we are accounting for the variability in costs. Within each region, all bids that are more than 1.5 times the regional average will be disqualified. Once selections are complete, unallocated dollars from each region will be added to the initial 20% residual amount. A secondary ranking will then be conducted. The secondary ranking will pool all remaining eligible applications and fund them in order of priority until the residual funding is exhausted.

Planning Considerations

Mosquito vector control districts will be notified upon property selection and landowner confirmation of acceptance to enroll

Why is the Central Valley Wetlands Program Important?

Countless ducks, geese, swans, cranes, and shorebirds rely on the wetland habitat in the Central Valley, playing a vital role in its ecosystem. Surprisingly, private wetlands make up a significant sixty-five percent of the remaining wetland habitat in this region. By implementing adaptive management practices for these privately owned wetlands, we can effectively expand and optimize the availability of flooded habitats. This expansion is crucial for migratory birds as they undertake their extensive journeys from Alaska to California and beyond, as well as for other essential life stages such as molting.


Molting habitat is crucial for ducks during their wing molt, when they simultaneously lose all flight feathers and are grounded for 3-4 weeks. To survive this vulnerable phase, ducks require spacious water, abundant high-protein food (to rapidly regrow feathers), and coverage (to hide from predators).

Unfortunately, molting habitat is scarce in our state. With water shortages exacerbating the problem, crowded molting birds also face disease pressure among other threats. By providing late-summer and fall water, private land managers can play a vital role in expanding this important habitat type and boosting population growth.


Shorebirds are in steep decline, and if they don’t have a place to stop, rest, and refuel during migration this year, population levels may drop even further. Other waterbirds that overwinter in the Delta are also likely to suffer.

During our new normal of fluctuating water years, habitat for migrating and resident birds is becoming less reliable, and often reduced to less than a third of normal levels, so providing flooded habitat on private wetlands is crucial.

Maintaining a mosaic of wetlands and well-managed wildlife-friendly croplands will allow this region to continue to support these birds while simultaneously benefiting other wildlife and the regional economy.

Flooded Habitat vs. Traditionally Managed Wetlands

© Greg Golet
Gradual flood-up and draw-down practices on wetlands can provide needed habitat for a greater diversity of migratory birds by creating variable water depths.
© Greg Golet
Traditionally managed wetlands that do not flood in the off-season, or flood to deeper depths for waterfowl, restrict the amount of habitat available to a greater diversity of species.

The Central Valley Wetlands Program is managed by the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership (The Nature ConservancyAudubon California, and Point Blue Conservation Science), in partnership with Ducks Unlimited and the California Waterfowl Association. This program is possible thanks to the generous funding by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Questions? Contact Us!

Sacramento Valley & Delta:

Ashley Seufzer


South of the Delta:

Ian Souza-Cole

(212) 979-3000 #312117