Monday, October 15, 2018
waterfowl flying at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area

Inland Wetlands Conservation Program

Program History

Each year as they have for thousands of years, millions of waterfowl make their annual fall migration from their breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska and northern tier of the continental United States (U.S.) to wintering areas farther south. Following traditional flight patterns, by mid winter more than five million ducks and geese have found their way to their destination in the Central Valley of California, the most important wintering waterfowl area in the Pacific Flyway. This is a remarkable number of birds, but from an historical standpoint, a tremendous decrease, perhaps by a factor of ten, in the total numbers of birds that once “darkened the skies” of the Central Valley.

During the twentieth century, this downward trend was seen throughout North America. By 1985, waterfowl populations had plummeted to record lows, in the Valley and throughout the North American continent. More than half of the original 221 million wetland acres found in the contiguous U.S. had been destroyed, and habitat that waterfowl depend on for survival was disappearing at a rate of 60 acres per hour. The picture was just as bleak across Canada, nesting grounds for a large percentage of the waterfowl that winter in the U.S. And nowhere were the losses greater than in the Central Valley, where more than 95% of wetland and riparian habitats had been lost.

Recognizing the importance of waterfowl and wetlands to North Americans and the need for international cooperation to help in the recovery of a shared resource, the Canadian and U.S. governments developed a strategy to restore waterfowl populations through habitat protection, restoration and enhancement. The strategy was documented in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) signed in 1986 by Canada and the U.S. With an update in 1994, Mexico also became a signatory to the NAWMP. This plan identifies continental target populations of all species of waterfowl. By the early 2000s, targets were being established for other wetland and riparian dependent bird species.

The Plan is international in scope, but its implementation functions at the regional level. Its success is dependent upon the strength of partnerships, called joint ventures, involving federal, state, provincial, tribal and local governments, businesses, and conservation organizations. Each joint venture has developed implementation plans focusing on local areas of concern, with the goal of providing habitats locally that will provide the basis for recovering the continental bird populations identified in the Plan. There are now nearly two dozen such partnerships at work across the continental landscape. In addition, three species-specific joint ventures are addressing the needs of the black duck, Arctic geese, and sea ducks throughout their international ranges.

Established in 1988, the Central Valley Joint Venture (CVJV) was one of the first joint ventures to be formed. The jurisdiction of the CVJV has recently been expanded to include the surrounding foothills and mountains. Still, the habitats that support the vast majority of the birds described above extends lie on the valley floor, an area that averages perhaps 30 miles wide and extending 400 miles from Red Bluff in the north, to Bakersfield in the south. The Valley encompasses the following nine hydrologic basins: Butte, Colusa, Sutter, Yolo, American, Suisun Marsh, Delta, San Joaquin and Tulare.

To achieve the goal of maintaining a diverse, abundant and healthy distribution of migratory bird populations in the Central Valley, the CVJV Implementation Plan (CVJV Plan), developed in 1990 and updated in 2006, established local habitat protection, restoration and enhancement objectives pursuant to the continental goals of the NAWMP. The CVJV Plan emphasizes the needs of waterfowl and focuses on wetland complexes, but also recognize that the Central Valley provides tremendous benefits to many other bird groups. The CVJV Plan now includes goals for six bird groups:

  1. wintering/migrating waterfowl
  2. breeding waterfowl
  3. wintering/migrating shorebirds
  4. breeding shorebirds
  5. riparian and grassland associated passerines
  6. waterbirds (mainly herons, egrets, ibis, cranes and cormorants)

These goals have been used to generate objectives for wetland restoration, wetland protection, wetland enhancement, and agricultural enhancement, and to identify the water needs to accomplish these goals. Finally, each goal has been further refined for each of the nine hydrological basins.

The Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) was a charter member of the CVJV, and in 1990, Chapter 1645 of the Fish and Game Code authorized the creation of the Inland Wetlands Conservation Program (IWCP) within the WCB. The enabling legislation defines the purpose of the program, “. . . to carry out the programs of the Central Valley Habitat Joint Venture” (since renamed the Central Valley Joint Venture). In conjunction with other CVJV partners and many others, the program works to protect, restore and enhance wetlands and waterfowl habitat in the Central Valley.

The program's legislative authority provides great flexibility, allowing the WCB to authorize grants and loans to nonprofit organizations, local governmental agencies and state departments. In addition, the WCB is authorized to acquire, lease, rent, sell or exchange any land or options acquired, with any proceeds going directly to the Inland Wetlands Conservation Fund to further support the efforts of the CVJV and the wetland program. This menu of “programmatic options or authority,” provides the ability to create and respond to opportunities designed to address all of the CVJV objectives.


WCB accepts applications on a continuous basis for habitat restoration projects.

Learn more about Applications

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