Flooded rice field

CDFW Now Accepting Proposals for California Winter Rice Habitat Incentive Program

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is now accepting proposals for the California Winter Rice Habitat Incentive Program (CWRHIP). For Fiscal Year 2020-2021, a total of up to $4,058,220 in CWRHIP funds will be available for new two-year agreements under this proposal solicitation notice.

In response to the recent decline of winter-flooded rice acreage in the Central Valley and the ecological importance of this habitat base, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 2348 in September of 2018. AB 2348 established the CWRHIP, which is designed to continue and further encourage the winter-flooding of harvested rice fields in the Central Valley of California. A significant portion of the caloric needs of ducks and migrating shorebirds utilizing the Sacramento Valley are provided by winter-flooded rice fields.

CWRHIP provides economic incentives to landowners or lessees who agree to manage their properties in accordance with a management plan developed in consultation with biologists from CDFW’s Comprehensive Wetland Habitat Program. Management plans will require landowners to flood harvested rice fields for a minimum of 70 continuous days during the winter months (October through March). Properties that can maintain water during critical months (January through mid-March) will be given additional points in the ranking process. Properties located within five miles of an active airstrip on a military base or international airport are not eligible to enroll in the program.

The program pays landowners an annual incentive of $15 per acre for the winter-flooding of harvested rice fields. The management requirements of the program will start after the 2020 harvest and continue through early 2022.

The deadline to apply for this program is Sept. 14, 2020 at 4 p.m. The program solicitation, application instructions and other information are available at wildlife.ca.gov/lands/cwhp/private-lands-programs.

CDFW staff will be hosting an online meeting on Thursday, Aug. 27 at 10 a.m. to explain the program requirements and application process and answer questions regarding CWRHIP. For information about how to participate in this meeting, please visit CDFW’s website at wildlife.ca.gov/lands/cwhp/private-lands-programs.

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Media Contacts:
Jeff Kohl, CDFW Wildlife Branch, (916) 373-6610

Kelsey Navarre, CDFW Wildlife Branch, (916) 371-3132
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 804-1714

Northern California Hatchery Workers Save Millions of Trout and Salmon

Following recent heavy rains, workers at the Nimbus and American River hatcheries labored around the clock to prevent massive debris loads from clogging the main water supply for below Nimbus Dam. Their intense efforts to clean intake structures and adjust water flows during battering winds and rains saved millions of eggs and young fish over the 11-day ordeal.

After a winter deluge from Jan. 7-18, the two hatcheries’ main water source experienced clogging that affected the water distribution system, putting more than 5.5 million trout and salmon eggs and 3 million young trout, steelhead and salmon in peril.

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Hatchery worker cleaning debris from a holding tank

Both hatcheries are on a gravity water flow supply from the main intake screen at Nimbus Dam. There are no other filters until the water reaches each hatchery.

January storms swelled water levels at Folsom and Nimbus dams to the highest points since the El Niño floods of 1997-1998. The high flows resulted in a release of up to 60,000 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) from Nimbus Dam, while the normal rate is around 6,000-10,000 cfs. This huge water flow swept up debris that had collected above water line during the extensive drought. The debris clogged, overwhelmed and then incapacitated the automatic cleaning screen at the intake, compromising water flow to both hatcheries.

In a joint cooperative effort and at the height of the crisis, technicians from the Bureau of Reclamation devised a simple but effective way to quickly remove the debris clogging the main intake screen. They also bypassed systems that limited the time between cleaning cycles on the machinery, thereby allowing CDFW personnel to monitor the process 24 hours a day and keep water flowing to the hatcheries.

“It was a tense situation that called on our staff to work double shifts cleaning and operating the main intake structure screen and unclogging egg incubation jars inside each hatchery,” said Nimbus Hatchery Manager Paula Hoover. “They were working as fast as they could, 24/7, to save the fish.”

At American River Hatchery, the recent crisis threatened 1.4 million trout eggs in various stages of development, along with 1.7 million young trout. The fish and eggs were in danger of suffocation as the debris clog caused reduced oxygen levels and reduced the flow of water as much as 50 percent. Further complicating operations, the drum filter for the hatchery building was overwhelmed by the increased sediment, prompting workers to create a bypass to keep water flowing to the building.

The hatchery raises more than 2.5 million trout annually for planting in lakes, rivers and streams in 15 counties throughout northern and central California. More than a quarter of a million anglers utilize these waters for recreational fishing.

None of the Golden Trout rescued from the Volcanic Wilderness Area due to drought conditions were affected because they are housed in aquaculture systems that can be switched to 100 percent recirculation as needed. These Golden Trout will be kept at the hatchery until conditions in their natural habitat improve and they can be released back to the wild, likely in the late spring or early summer of this year.

At Nimbus Hatchery, 450,000 steelhead and 4.5 million salmon in various stages of development faced the same dire situation. Preparing for the worst, staff had emergency equipment ready to perform on-site releases of more than 250,000 year-old steelhead into the raging American River if conditions at the hatchery deteriorated further.

“The recreational and economic impact from potential loss of trout, salmon and steelhead from these two hatcheries would be substantial,” said North Central Region Fisheries Program Manager Kevin Thomas. “As usual, dedicated CDFW hatchery staff demonstrated exceptional care and effort, helping millions of fish survive to provide recreational, commercial and tribal fishing opportunities for California and the businesses they support.”

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Media Contacts:
Jay Rowan, CDFW North Central Region, (916) 358-2883
Dr. Mark Clifford, CDFW Fisheries Branch, (530) 918-9450
Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8908

Flooding Limits Use of Wild Lands

Flooding Limits Use of Wild Lands

Recent flooding has limited opportunities for nature enthusiasts, hunters and students to enjoy certain wildlife areas and ecological reserves operated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

The Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area just west of Sacramento completely flooded in January, leading to the temporary closure of the wildlife area and affecting more than 200 hunters and other visitors each day. The closures also affected school nature programs – which serve more than 4,000 students annually at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area alone – necessitating the postponement or cancellation of scheduled trips to the wildlife observation drive.

Nearby, the Fremont Weir Wildlife Area automatically starts to flood when the Sacramento River reaches the height of the weir. Such flooding has occurred several times this winter and the trend is expected to continue. Access to the wildlife area is restricted when the river is rising or water is flowing across the fields. After a heavy rain, the access road can be muddy and four-wheel-drive vehicles may be needed.

At Upper Butte Basin Wildlife Area, 100 miles north of Sacramento near Gridley, all three units were closed to hunting. At Colusa and Delevan National Wildlife Refuges, hunting programs were severely reduced for the last two weeks of waterfowl season. The entire Grizzly Island Wildlife Area complex southwest of Fairfield is also closed due to water spilling over levees.

In Merced County, the entire floodplain of the China Island Unit of North Grasslands Wildlife Area along the San Joaquin River was inundated. The area remained open to waterfowl hunting but required a boat to access the floodplain.

In Southern California, San Jacinto Wildlife Area in western Riverside County experienced heavy rains that compromised Davis Road. This area remains flooded and accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles. The county will be launching efforts to make it passable in the coming months.

“Periodically, flood conditions will affect public use of the wildlife areas and other lands CDFW manages,” said CDFW Lands Program Manager Kari Lewis. “After many years of drought, the recent rains remind us how quickly the amount of water on the landscape can change, affecting the accessibility of these areas for hunting and wildlife viewing.”

In the short term, many of the closures are inconvenient, but are nonetheless necessary for public safety and to provide safe haven and minimize stress to displaced wildlife. In the long term, the benefit of the rain is indisputable. Floodwaters at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, for instance, will eventually provide resources for migrating waterfowl and mudflats for shorebirds to feed on.

Statewide, CDFW manages more than a million acres for wildlife, which together see more than a million visitors a year. These lands support recreational pursuits such as bird watching and wildlife viewing, rare plant study and fishing and hunting opportunities. Individual properties support different suites of species, such as Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, a coastal wetland that provides invaluable habitat for wildlife including sea otters, brown pelicans and bat rays, and Gray Lodge Wildlife Area in the Central Valley, which hosts more than a million migrating waterfowl annually. All of these lands are vital to the state’s efforts to preserve California’s ecological heritage and provide the public with opportunities to enjoy these resources.

“Farsighted conservationists with what was then called the California Department of Fish and Game began purchasing key wildlands in the 1920s to ensure the future of California’s wildlife,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “It is our job to wisely preserve, manage and protect these jewels of conservation in times of both drought and floods.”

Current information about CDFW wildlife area closures can be found at https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=57660&inline or via Twitter tag #cawildlifeareaclosures. Additional information about CDFW lands can also be found at www.wildlife.ca.gov/lands.

Limited funding to maintain and operate these lands comes primarily from hunting license sales and federal grants programs such as those created under the federal Wildlife Restoration Act.

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Media Contacts:
Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8908
Kari Lewis, CDFW Wildlife Branch, (916) 445-3789