Ducks, geese and shorebirds by the millions rest, feed and rear their young in rice fields during their annual migrations.
In fact, the well-respected Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences designated the Sacramento Valley as Shorebird Habitat of International Significance. Most of the acres designated are composed of California ricelands.
One of the greatest benefits from rice farming in the Central Valley is the environmental gains that accrue to wildlife. California ricelands provide valuable open space and habitat for 230 species of wildlife, many of which are species of special concern, threatened or endangered. This is especially important today, given that 95 percent of California's historical wetlands in the Central Valley are now gone.
California rice fields provide habitat and nourishment for approximately seven million ducks and geese migrating along the Pacific Flyway each year. Ricelands are increasingly crucial to hundreds of thousands of shorebirds that nest in the fields year round. For example, recent studies have shown that California ricelands currently provide more than half of the nutritional requirements of wintering waterfowl in the Sacramento Valley.
These rice fields, along with adjacent wetlands, are designated as Shorebird Habitat of International Significance by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. It is what these growers are doing in the annual cycle of rice production that creates this critically important habitat within the Pacific Flyway.
Ricelands provide more than 230,000 acres of equivalent wetland. In other words, this amount of new wetlands habitat would have to be created to support the same waterbird populations that California's ricelands support today. Acquiring and restoring this amount of land to create wetland for wintering waterfowl populations would initially cost about $1 billion and about $25 million annually for upkeep.
Rice fields provide a substantial wildlife resource benefit that comes essentially free to the public as long as California rice remains viable.