Wildlife Conservation Receives Public Funding at Elliott Ranch

By Jan Dalske

In June of 2016, a California state agency, the Delta Conservancy, awarded the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) a grant of $380,000. The money will be used to implement a habitat enhancement project for the state-listed Swainson’s hawk. The future habitat for this endangered species is Elliott Ranch, in West Sacramento, near the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The Swainson’s hawk is not the only species that will benefit from this grant. The ranch will meet its conservation goals while keeping the land planted with productive agriculture. The result will provide a beneficial impact on the local agriculture economy.
The grant is part of California’s public water bond funding which is managed by the Delta Conservancy to restore wildlife habitats in the Central Valley. The Elliott Ranch project will enhance the Swainson’s hawk habitat on 300 acres. The project will expand the hawks’ hunting grounds by restoring a habitat for their prey and converting existing crops to a bird-friendly pasture.
Our farms and ranches, America’s private lands, provide the greatest potential for conservation and management of species like the Swainson’s hawk. Improved accounting tools are being used to demonstrate the value of habitat on working lands. They can help to target areas that have the greatest potential for restoration.
A habitat quantification tool (HQT) which was designed by the EDF and local stakeholders is central to the project. The information obtained will be used to test how the HQT can be used for future restoration or future landowner incentive programs. It measures the impacts of wildlife habitat and the benefits that have been created.
The Yolo Habitat Conservancy, a group that is a partner in the project, will benefit by testing how the HQT can be used for future restoration or landowner incentive programs. The use of public funds can improve restoration projects and obtain the highest environmental return on that investment.
The Swainson’s hawk HQT will measure both habitat quantity and quality. The quality will be based on three attributes: nesting habitat, foraging habitat, and suitability of habitat within the landscape. These habitat attributes will be scored, weighted and combined into a single overall habitat quality score. This score will reflect a consideration of both the project area and the surrounding landscape.
Additional lessons can be learned from the Elliott Ranch project. The ranch will be able to meet its conservation goals while it keeps the land in productive agriculture while providing a positive example for the local agriculture economy.
With the application of the HQT on this site, a multi-species assessment will be used. This single property could be used to assess a variety of species including riparian songbirds, giant garter snakes and Chinook salmon. And in the future the criteria for assessing the habitat for monarch butterfly could be included.
The state of California, as the Delta Conservancy, EDF and various other partners have demonstrated how the use of public funds can be used to target restoration funds for those projects that will offer the highest environmental return on the investment.

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