The Delta Working Landscapes Program (Program) is a group of projects which demonstrate how farmers can integrate habitat restoration into farming practices. The objectives of the Program are to improve the environmental quality of existing landscapes in the Delta; coordinate programs with local farmers; understand the social, economic, environmental and governmental policy hurdles and/or incentives to perform conservation practices; and communicate to farmers the advantages of implementing wildlife friendly agricultural practices.
The Delta Protection Commission was awarded a three year grant to construct the program through the California Bay-Delta Program in 2005. Program partners included California Department of Fish and Wildlife Ecosystem Restoration Program, Hart Restoration (Hart) and Ducks Unlimited (DU). Hart established vegetative buffers along irrigation ditch banks and hedgerow grass plantings. These plantings were designed to provide habitat for wildlife, improve water quality by reducing runoff of pesticides and sediment, enhance levee stability, and retard levee erosion. DU coordinated restoration enhancement projects which included creating seasonal and permanent wetlands on marginal farmlands. These projects provide waterfowl brooding habitat, a food source, and additional habitat sites which promote healthier waterfowl flocks.
These projects total 312 acres of seasonal and permanent wetlands and 6.5 miles enhanced levees and waterways. Project areas established native plant life, have been repopulated by wildlife, and filter agricultural drainage which improves water quality and enhances levee stability. Multiple species of waterfowl are using the restoration habitat for brooding and feeding as well as staying later into the season. No easements, MOUs, fee purchases, or eminent domain were used.
Challenges to Working Landscapes projects include prior long term use of pesticides and herbicides which have created a hostile environment for native plants and wildlife. Additionally, some cultural practices are not conducive to habitat creation such as practices which rely on herbicides instead of tillage. Furthermore, economic costs are affiliated with physical land alterations, and in some cases permit requirements are cumbersome.
Despite these challenges, successful public/private partnerships are possible. Working Landscapes projects can be expanded through better communication between policy and regulatory agencies and publicizing successful projects.