Important Bird Areas

Big Valley - Ash Creek

California

Big Valley is the middle of three large valleys formed by the Pit River in northeastern California, with Fall River Valley and the South Fork Pit River Valley (which contains Modoc NWR) being the other two. All feature a blend of wetland (freshwater marsh, alkali meadow) and upland (sagebrush scrub) habitat, with stringers of riparian woodland along waterways, surrounded by juniper-dotted hillsides. Big Valley, like the others, features large wildlife areas managed primarily for waterfowl and sensitive species. Straddling two counties, the 14,000-acre Ash Creek Wildlife Area includes a large portion of the wetland habitat, but significant wildlife habitat is also found on the private ranches of the valley. The entire valley, including the wildlife area, is grazed and hayed, whereby the alkali meadow grasses are harvested in summer for hay.

Ornithological Summary

Big Valley supports huge numbers of north-bound waterfowl in early spring, as well as large breeding populations of Great Basin species. Many species of ducks remain to breed, including Bufflehead, a localized nester in the state. Ash Creek Wildlife Area supports thousands of the tiny Cackling race of Canada Goose during early spring staging, as well as an estimated 300,000 Snow and Ross' geese. Up to 5800 Greater Sandhill Cranes arrive in early spring (nearly all of the California population), and nearly 80 pr. bred in 2000, which supported the largest California nesting population of this taxon during statewide surveys that year (Ivey and Herziger 2001). The upland habitat in the IBA protects one of the few consistent Greater Sage-Grouse leks left in California (BD).

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Conservation Issues

Unlike many large wetland areas in the state, this IBA is remote and still relatively pristine, with Conservation issues mainly centered around management for Greater Sandhill Crane. Hay-cutting schedules (late June on private lands vs. August on state lands) have been a major point of controversy. The manager at Ash Creek Wildlife Area mentions the need for increased riparian habitat restoration, particularly on the wildlife area, but also cites strong support for conservation projects (coordinated by the local Resource Conservation District) by area landowners (fide L. Ashford). About 1200 acres of floodplain wetlands at the west end of Big Valley can be restored by rehabilitating deep incisions in Ash Creek, and additional wetland and riparian restoration opportunities exist along the Pit River (fide G. Ivey). Large mammals are predictably abundant here, notably multiple bands of Pronghorn (S. Collins, in litt.).

Ownership

Big Valley is the middle of three large valleys formed by the Pit River in northeastern California, with Fall River Valley and the South Fork Pit River Valley (which contains Modoc NWR) being the other two. Straddling two counties, the 14,000-acre Ash Creek Wildlife Area includes a large portion of the wetland habitat, but significant wildlife habitat is also found on the private ranches of the valley.

Habitat

This IBA features a blend of wetland (freshwater marsh, alkali meadow) and ?upland? (sagebrush scrub) habitat, with stringers of riparian woodland along waterways, surrounded by juniper-dotted hillsides. The entire valley, including the wildlife area, is grazed and ?hayed?, whereby the alkali meadow grasses are harvested in summer for hay.