We provide a virtual "bed and breakfast" for many species of wildlife.
In fact, 230 species of wildlife are known to use our rice fields-about 31 of them are listed as species of special concern by the conservation community. Most notable is the widely diverse population of birds known to use our rice fields. For example, majestic bald eagles and peregrine falcons can be found soaring over northern California ricelands. California rice growers enjoy seeing these and other wildlife visitors during their workday. As a result, they want to manage the resources so that their children's children can enjoy these beautiful wildlife experiences.
A farm provides open space for wildlife, yet is also managed to produce food. Rice farms do even more by providing much needed "wetland" habitat in both the growing seasons (spring/summer) and dormant seasons (fall/winter). Over 500,000 acres of ricelands produce over 2 million tons of rice annually. This translates to 500,000 acres of valuable wetland habitat for much of the year. This is also accompanied by winter flooding in an effort to decompose much of our rice straw. In fact, up to 60 percent of rice ground is now winter flooded, providing about 250,000 to 350,000 acres of valuable wetland habitat for a variety of waterfowl and other wetland-dependant species wintering along the Pacific Flyway. California duck populations have increased significantly since this new management practice began in the early 1990s. Because this flooding is done as part of a farming operation, it is essentially a "free" public service that produces significant habitat resource benefits. Whether you appreciate ducks, geese, shorebirds, or raptors, they are all here for your viewing pleasure in California rice country.
Before flood waters in the Sacramento Valley were controlled, natural winter flooding occurred routinely. This natural flooding contributed to a rich inventory of seasonal wetlands in the Sacramento Valley. It is estimated that approximately 95 percent of these historical wetlands are now gone. However, the good news is that the Valley's rice production activities essentially "re-create" suitable habitat for a variety of wetland-dependant species of wildlife. In the absence of rice production, it would cost well over $100 per acre each year to maintain enough managed wetlands to support the same amount of waterfowl populations supported by rice fields. Research indicates that over 175,000 acres of wetlands would have to be created and maintained to provide a similar wintering waterfowl habitat benefit currently provided by California ricelands. This would cost over $25 million each year. Furthermore, to initially create this amount of wetland habitat would cost over $1 billion.