Skip to main content Skip to footer


Central Valley wetlands © Lighthawk

Wetlands Program

Since 2014 BirdReturns has been supporting farmers in the Sacramento Valley to adaptively manage their lands to benefit waterbirds.  Now, the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership (Audubon California, Point Blue Conservation Science, and The Nature Conservancy) is applying that success to extend the BirdReturns program to California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and south of Delta wetland owners. Private wetlands compose sixty-five percent of remnant wetland habitat in the Central Valley, making them important habitat strongholds. These wetlands are traditionally managed to provide waterfowl habitat and subsequent hunting opportunities. By adjusting management of water depth and timing, private wetlands can meet habitat needs for additional waterbird species, which is especially important during drought when there is far less water in other parts of the Central Valley.

Delta and South of Delta Wetlands Spring 2023

The objective of the Spring BirdReturns-Delta and South of Delta Wetland Program is to provide monetary support to private landowners to enable the flood up of managed seasonal wetlands by April 1 to a depth of 8-12” followed by a staged drawdown over a four-to-six-week period. Landowners can apply to enroll multiple wetland units/properties by submitting a bid for each wetland unit.

Wetlands located throughout the Delta and San Joaquin Valley are eligible for the spring program. Wetland managers are asked to meet specific conditions in their fields to provide high-quality habitat for waterbirds, specifically shallower water depths, low vegetation and crop residue, and minimal tillage.

To apply for the Spring BirdReturns-Delta and South of Delta Wetlands Programsubmit a bid consisting of the desired dollar amount per acre to create the habitat as described in the program details below.

Bid Ranking and Scoring Process

All bids will be ranked and scored by representatives from the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership, 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 bid according to its location in the landscape, history of bird use in the surrounding area, and timing. Those bids that are able to flood longer, have larger acreages, and have competitive bids will rank higher.

Delta and South of Delta Wetlands Spring 2023

Spring Program Details
  • Application Period: February 3 – February 19, 2023
    • Landowners can enroll multiple wetland units/ponds
  • Flooding Period: April 1 – April 30, 2023 (Gradual drawdown over 4 weeks)
  • Who is eligible:
    • All Delta and south of Delta wetlands >25 acres
    • Wetland owners with access to groundwater and/or surface water
    • For more detail on eligibility see Program Overlap details below
  • Ineligible Due to Program Overlap and Geographic Restrictions:
    • Wetlands enrolled in the Presley Program or that are currently receiving annual funding to manage spring wetlands i.e. NRCS EQIP
    • Within 5 miles of major airports, including Sacramento, Travis Air Force Base, Fresno-Yosemite International Airport, and Lemoore Naval Air Station
    • Groundwater pumping in areas that may negatively impact municipal wells
    • Wetland Units less than 25 acres in size
  • Enrolled wetland units will be fully flooded (minimum depth of 8 to 12 inches at outflow, dependent on geography) with no exposed mudflat on April 1, 2023 and then carry out a staged drawdown over four weeks.
    • By April 15, 25-50% of the enrolled wetland unit(s) is mudflats
    • By April 30, 75% of the enrolled wetland unit(s) is mudflats
    • Allow access to wetland units for compliance and biological monitoring during the drawdown period

  • Ranking Criteria:
    • Applications will be ranked on flooding history, habitat quality, and total cost based on bid ($/acre)
      • Habitat Quality: Areas with sparse to no vegetation coverage may rank higher
      • Bid Competitiveness: The amount requested (total cost as well as $/acre)
      • Open Water: ~50% open water areas on the wetland unit may rank higher

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

The Delta and South of Delta Wetlands Program is managed by the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership (The Nature Conservancy, Audubon 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.

Why is the Delta and South of Delta Wetlands Program Important?

Millions of ducks, geese, swans, cranes, and shorebirds depend on wetland habitat in the Central Valley, and they are critical to its ecosystem. Private wetlands compose sixty-five percent of remnant wetland habitat in the Central Valley. Adaptively managing these privately owned wetlands extends and maximizes flooded habitat that migratory birds depend on as they make their long journeys from Alaska to California and beyond, then back again in the spring.

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

During this year of intense drought, habitat for migrating birds will be in short supply, 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.

Questions? Contact Us!

Xerónimo Castañeda
(916) 737-5707 x119

Julia Barfield
(916) 449-2852