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Fall Wetlands

Central Valley wetlands © Lighthawk

Wetlands Program

BirdReturns- Fall Wetlands 2024

The goal of the BirdReturns Fall Wetland Program is to encourage private wetlands to provide early flooded habitat for migrating shorebirds, early arrival waterfowl, and molting waterfowl. By gradually flooding-up seasonal wetlands and maintaining that water into the start of the hunting season, wetland managers can create this much needed habitat for migratory birds.

Program Requirements


All bids are final once the application period is closed


  • Wetland properties in the Sacramento Valley, Delta, Tulare, and San Joaquin Valley
  • Seasonal wetland units >25 acres
  • Wetland owners with access to ground and/or surface water

Ineligible Applicants

  • Wetlands less than 25 acres
  • Wetland properties located in Suisun
  • Wetlands enrolled in any annual incentive program (i.e., NRCS EQIP) that provides payment to conduct flooding during the same time window
  • Within 5 miles of major airports, including Beale AFB, Sacramento International, Travis AFB, Fresno-Yosemite International and Lemoore Naval Air Station (check map here)
  • Properties located close to population centers may be precluded from participating depending on local conditions or concerns. Areas indicated in this map will be more carefully assessed. Please reach out to the BirdReturns program manager prior to applying if all or a portion of your property is located within these areas.

Practice Specifications

Flooding requirements:

Begin flooding the wetland unit during the selected start date range. Gradually flood up the wetland unit and reach fully flooded (at any depth) within 3 weeks. Remain fully flooded (at any depth) until the hunting season (October 26th).

  • Flooding Start Date Options:
    • Flooding can start on any day within the selected range. This allows for flexibility in planning.
      • Option 1: August 2-5
      • Option 2: August 9-12
      • Option 3: August 16-19
      • Option 4: August 23-26
      • Option 5: August 30- September 2

Vegetation management:

  • Wetland must have less than 50% emergent cover/vegetation (particularly cattails/tules) to ensure availability of open habitat for shorebirds and minimize costs associated with mosquito abatement. 

Bid Ranking & 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 earlier, have larger acreages, and have competitive bids will rank higher. Please contact us if you’d like additional information on scoring criteria.

  • 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%
    • San Joaquin Valley/Grasslands – 20%
    • Tulare – 20%
    • Residual – 20%

BUDGET: 1.5 million

CENTRAL VALLEY HABITAT GOAL: The shared goal for fall habitat is 35,000 acres, which will aim to be achieved through a combination of the Fall Wetlands and Fall Farmlands programs.

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. 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.


To prepare a competitive bid, BirdReturns encourages applicants to consider the costs (or a portion of the costs) they will incur to comply with the practice requirements. Costs to consider include:

  • Water costs
  • Mosquito abatement costs
  • Pump costs
  • Additional discretionary labor and field visits to ensure the property remains in compliance with program requirements

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?


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.

Wetlands (Photo: Ashley Seufzer)© Ashley Seufzer
© Ian Souza-Cole


Shorebirds face alarming declines, and the absence of resting spots during migration could exacerbate their dwindling populations. In a time of managed water, most wetlands remain dry during fall migration unless wetland managers choose to create the flooded habitat these birds depend on. The management of private wetlands is critical in ensuring shorebird survival as they can provide habitat when birds need it most. Sustaining a diverse array of strategically flooded wetlands not only supports shorebirds but also benefits other wildlife and contributes to the regional economy.

Flooded Habitat vs. Traditionally Managed Wetlands

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 that reflect the natural cycles birds depend on.

Traditionally managed wetlands that do not flood in the off-season, or flood quickly to deeper depths for waterfowl, restrict the amount of habitat available to a greater diversity of species.

© Greg Golet

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!

Ashley Seufzer


Xerónimo Castañeda

(916) 737-5707 x119