As closed door negotiations begin this week to resolve the differences between two very different federal bills aimed at helping California address its drought crisis, Audubon California today called on California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to hold their ground against supporters of House legislation that would gut environmental protections in the Central Valley.
Feinstein recently ushered her own drought legislation through the Senate that seeks to bring emergency relief to communities and farmers. While Feinstein’s bill no longer contains a number of considerations for birds and habitat it had at its introduction, it nonetheless preserves several essential environmental protections, and is significantly better for birds.
“It’s clear that the drought is causing problems for every sector in the Central Valley,” said Mike Lynes, Audubon California’s director of public policy. “Some legislators are already calling upon Sen. Feinstein to accept changes to her bill that would have disastrous results for California's birds and wildlife.”
The negotiations begin on the heels of the release of a new survey of waterfowl breeding populations in California showing a 20 percent decline in the number of breeding Mallards over last year. According the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which conducts the annual survey, breeding Mallards were down to 238,700 from the 298,600 counted in 2013. While the total number of breeding ducks was only slightly slower – 448,750, compared to 451,300 last year — this year’s number is nonetheless 23 percent below the long-term average. The results speak to the degradation of Central Valley habitat due to the ongoing drought.
In February, the House of Representatives passed drought legislation that would override the Endangered Species Act, suspend the San Joaquin River Restoration, and divert critically important water from the 19 Central Valley wildlife refuges. Audubon California at the time criticized this legislation as a cynical attempt to score political points without creating any real benefit for the Central Valley.
"We urge Sens. Feinstein and Boxer to stand firm against those who will exploit this crisis in the hope of rolling back our commitments to the refuges and our environmental protections,” added Lynes. “What California needs is a common sense response to the drought that will provide water for communities and agriculture without destroying the investments we have made in our natural resources.”
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 and communities that make up the Valley today. The 19 Central Valley wetland refuges are the last vestiges of that habitat, and millions of birds depend on them for survival.
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.
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.
More information is available at www.ca.audubon.org.