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Spring Wetlands

Central Valley wetlands © Lighthawk

Wetland Programs

BirdReturns- Spring Wetlands 2024

The objective of the BirdReturns Spring Wetland Program is to incentivize private wetland managers to provide spring flooded habitat for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. By maintaining seasonal wetlands through early spring, followed by a gradual drawdown, wetland managers can create this much needed habitat for migratory birds.

Program Requirements


January 12th, 2024 – February 6th, 2024

All bids are final once the application period is closed


  • Wetland properties in the Suisun marsh, Delta, Sacramento Valley, Tulare, and San Joaquin Valley
  • Seasonal wetland units >25 acres
  • Wetland owners with access to ground and/or surface water
  • Must notify local mosquito vector control districts if selected to participate

Ineligible Applicants

  • Wetlands enrolled in any annual incentive program (i.e., NRCS EQIP, Presley) that provides payment to conduct flooding during the same time window as this program
  • 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

Practice Specifications


  • Soils must remain flooded or fully saturated from the end of the waterfowl season until the end of the drawdown period.
  • Conduct a gradual drawdown to reach 50% mud flats on enrolled units within the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd week of April. Wetlands must reach 50% mudflats before the end of the selected week.
    • Option 1: First week of April
    • Option 2: Second week of April
    • Option 3: Third week of April
  • Allow access to wetland units for compliance and biological monitoring


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

Payment Rates

BUDGET: $500,000



REGIONOPTION 1 (First Week of April)OPTION 2 (Second Week of April)OPTION 3 (Third Week of April)
Sacramento Valley and San Joaquin Valley
(Excluding Grasslands Water District)
Grasslands Water District, Suisun, and Delta$10$10$15

Application 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, using the best available science and tools that predict the habitat value of each application according to its location in the landscape, history of bird use in the surrounding area, and timing. Applicants that are able to flood longer and have larger acreages will rank higher.

Ranking Strategy:

Primary ranking will be conducted at the regional level. The highest-scoring bids will be selected within a region until the regional habitat target is met. Targets are set so each region has an opportunity to contribute toward a portion of the Central Valley-wide habitat target. Spring regional habitat targets are set at 10% of the Central Valley-wide habitat objective. With remaining funding, the highest-scoring bids across all regions will be selected until all funding is spent or the statewide habitat target is met.

Flooded Habitat vs. Traditionally Managed Wetlands

© Greg Golet
Gradually drawn down wetlands that can provide needed habitat for migratory birds into the spring
© Greg Golet
Traditionally managed wetlands that do not create needed habitat for migratory birds into the spring

Wetland Gradual Drawdown Sequence

© Tim Poole
One Week After Gradual Drawdown: Gradual drawdown after one week that begins to expose mudflats on the edge of the unit, with little to no vegetation throughout most of the unit
© Tim Poole
Two Weeks After Gradual Drawdown: Late winter-early spring conditions that begin to attract waterbirds with minimal vegetation
© Tim Poole
Great shallow flooded habitat with variable water depths, attracting different species of birds
© Tim Poole
Three Weeks After Gradual Drawdown: Late season habitat that shows exposed mudflats with standing water near the middle of the unit; demonstrates what ideal site conditions are prior to flooding

Why the Spring Wetland Program Matters

Migratory birds like ducks, geese, and shorebirds play a vital role in the Central Valley’s ecosystem. Private wetlands, making up 65% of the remaining habitat, are critical for their survival during their long journeys. Our Spring Wetlands Program ensures flooded habitats on these private lands, offering essential rest stops for birds traveling from Alaska to California and beyond.

The ongoing variability in water conditions makes creating flooded areas on private wetlands crucial to ensure migratory birds have the necessary habitats. By supporting our program, you’re helping maintain a diverse landscape that benefits not only birds but also other wildlife and the local economy. Join us in safeguarding our feathered friends and preserving the delicate balance of our region’s ecosystems

Questions? Contact Us!

Xerónimo Castañeda
(916) 737-5707 x119

Ashley Seufzer