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Summer Wetlands

Central Valley wetlands © Lighthawk

Wetland Programs

BirdReturns- Summer Wetlands 2024

The objective of the BirdReturns Summer Wetland Program is to incentivize private wetland managers to provide nesting and brood-rearing habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl. By flooding-up suitable wetland units in spring and maintaining habitat through July 15th, wetland managers can create this much needed habitat for nesting birds. Wetland managers are asked to meet specific conditions in their units to provide high-quality habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl, specifically, wetland units that can maintain deep flooding and have the ability to conduct a gradual drawdown.

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
  • Summer wetland units >15 acres throughout the Central Valley; Minimum of 5 acres in Tulare
  • Wetland owners with access to ground and/or surface water
  • Wetlands that can maintain established low salinity targets (Suisun Marsh only)
  • Must notify local mosquito vector control districts if selected to participate

Ineligible Applicants

  • 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
  • Wetlands less than 15 acres in the Central Valley and less than 5 acres in Tulare.
  • Wetlands with high salinity and/or an inability to receive fresh water (Suisun only)

Practice Specifications


  • Wetland units must be fully flooded from April 1st – July 15th (Fully Flooded = no exposed mudflat, minimum depth of 12-24 inches at outflow, dependent on geography)
    • Management Options to select from:
      • Semi-permanent Wetland (Standard Drawdown): 
        • On August 1st, wetland units must be drawn down to ~50% mudflats (50% flooded).
      • Permanent Wetland (Delayed Drawdown): 
        • Wetland units must remain fully flooded until at least October 1st.
  • Suisun properties must conduct spring leach cycle by draining wetland(s) after waterfowl season and reflooding by April 1st to target depth
  • Allow access to wetland units for compliance and biological monitoring

Payment Rates

BUDGET: $2,000,000



REGIONPayment Rate per Acre
Sacramento Valley and San Joaquin Valley
(Excluding Grasslands Water District)
Grasslands Water District, Suisun, and Delta$80

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. Summer regional habitat targets are set at 5% 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.

Why the Summer Wetland Program Matters

Countless ducks, geese, swans, cranes, and shorebirds depend on the Central Valley’s wetlands, contributing significantly to its ecosystem. Private wetlands make up a substantial 65% of the remaining habitat. By managing these private wetlands adaptively, we can expand flooded habitats crucial for migratory birds on their extensive journeys and essential life stages like molting.


Summer flooding is limited, especially during droughts, impacting breeding waterfowl and other wetland-dependent species. Your support helps provide vital resources to sustain these species during this critical period.


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 declining, and without resting spots during migration, their populations may drop further. Fluctuating water levels in our changing environment reduce reliable habitat, making flooded private wetlands crucial for their survival.

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.

Questions? Contact Us!

Ashley Seufzer


Xerónimo Castañeda

(916) 737-5707 x119