Birds shouldn’t be lost in drought debate, urges Audubon California

As President Obama visits the Central Valley today to discuss the ongoing California drought, Audubon California Executive Director Brigid McCormack urged lawmakers to consider the needs of the tens of millions of migratory birds that rely on the Central Valley as a vital stopping point on the Pacific Flyway. While McCormack was highly critical of the divisive, counterproductive drought legislation that recently passed out of the House of Representatives, she is optimistic that recent legislation coming out the Senate shows more promise.

“Crafting water policy that balances all of California’s needs has always been a challenge – even more so with the current drought,” said McCormack. “The current Senate bill takes a much more balanced approach toward California’s diverse needs.”

McCormack noted that she was concerned that the bill, as currently worded, would seem to walk back the federal government’s promise to allocate sufficient water for wildlife refuges.

“Providing adequate water for the conservation needs of our wildlife refuges is a promise that we’ve made to the Central Valley that we need to keep,” noted McCormack. “I’m hopeful that as this legislation moves forward, the needs of migratory birds won’t be forgotten.”

Acknowledging the massive impacts to wildlife from federal irrigation, Congress in 1992 passed the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) to support habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife in the Central Valley. This legislation mandated minimum allocations of water to the network of federal wildlife refuges, state wildlife areas and private wetlands in the Central Valley. This commitment is just a tiny fraction of the water allocated elsewhere in the Valley.

A century ago, Central Valley wetlands supported 40 million migrating waterfowl along the Pacific Flyway. By the 1980s, however, 95 percent of those wetlands had been lost to the creation of the great agricultural engine that the Valley is today. While agriculture can sometimes provide surrogate habitat, it is not a perfect replica of natural habitat.

“We have learned that we don’t have to choose between agriculture and bird conservation,” said McCormack. “We’ve seen the two work very well together, and we hope that the ongoing legislation embraces that potential.”

About Audubon California  

Audubon California is building a better future for California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. With more than 50,000 members in California and an affiliated 48 local Audubon chapters, Audubon California is a field program of the National Audubon Society. 

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