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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

PACIFIC SOUTHWEST REGION: Dos Rios Ranch Acquisition and Restoration Project

Region 8, May 21, 2012
Existing degraded habitat at Dos Rios Ranch to be restored to riparian vegetation.
Existing degraded habitat at Dos Rios Ranch to be restored to riparian vegetation. - Photo Credit: n/a
Field 22 at Dos Rios Ranch.  Restoration will provide elevated refugia for species such as the endangered riparian brush rabbit.
Field 22 at Dos Rios Ranch. Restoration will provide elevated refugia for species such as the endangered riparian brush rabbit. - Photo Credit: n/a
Confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers as seen from Dos Rios Ranch.
Confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers as seen from Dos Rios Ranch. - Photo Credit: n/a
Attendees of the Dos Rios Ranch celebration enjoying a tour of the property.
Attendees of the Dos Rios Ranch celebration enjoying a tour of the property. - Photo Credit: n/a

By Caroline Prose

In 2002, the Tuolumne River Trust (Trust), a non-profit organization which promotes stewardship of the Tuolumne River, contacted landowners along the Tuolumne River near the town of Modesto, California, to determine their interest in working together on habitat restoration goals for the area. One of the landowners who responded positively was the Lyons family. Subsequently, negotiations were begun to acquire the family’s Dos Rios Ranch property, in order to support expansion of conservation and flood management in the region.

The ranch consists of over 1,600 acres at the confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers, and contains remnant floodplain habitats that include wetlands, riparian woodlands, and agricultural lands. It is immediately adjacent to the 8,000-acre San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).

As negotiations for the acquisition progressed, River Partners, a non-profit corporation whose mission is to create wildlife habitat for the benefit of people and the environment, collaborated with the Trust to obtain funding for the acquisition, and to develop a plan for the eventual restoration of the property. After 10 years, their efforts led to the culmination of the acquisition in February 2012. Ultimately, federal, state, local, and private partners contributed $21.8 million towards this significant purchase. Following completion of habitat restoration activities, River Partners intends to transfer the property to an appropriate federal or state resource management agency for management as a wildlife preserve in perpetuity.

Among the eight funding partners, two conservation programs managed by the Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service helped fund the pre-acquisition and acquisition phases, and more recently, the future habitat restoration of 198 acres on the ranch. These programs are the Central Valley Project Conservation Program (CVPCP), and the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) Habitat Restoration Program (HRP). These competitive grant programs provide annual funding to qualified recipients to help protect and restore native habitats, and stabilize and improve populations of native species, in California’s Central Valley (for more information, see http://www.usbr.gov/mp/cvpcp/).

Restoration actions by River Partners and the Trust will lead to improved habitats for wildlife, enhanced floodplain management, and recreational opportunities for the public. In funding partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Wetland Reserve Program (NRCS WRP), the first phase of the restoration will include planting native riparian and upland vegetation; wetland enhancement; construction of elevated mounds to provide a refuge from flooding for riparian mammals and other wildlife; and installation of drip irrigation to support riparian plantings. After 3 years of restoration efforts, these 198 acres should become a self-sustaining native-dominated forest, shrubland, and wetland, with herbaceous understory communities that are resilient to flood and fire disturbances, and resistant to future weed infestation. The NRCS WRP will provide much of the funding for future phases of restoration at Dos Rios Ranch that are envisioned for fields adjacent to the 198 acres.

Numerous wildlife species should benefit from the restoration, including the federally endangered riparian brush rabbit, riparian woodrat, least Bell’s vireo, and threatened valley elderberry longhorn beetle. For example, through the restoration of dense brushy habitat and construction of elevated high ground, the ranch has great potential to serve as a future reintroduction site for the riparian brush rabbit, which currently is restricted to the adjacent San Joaquin River NWR and Caswell Memorial State Park locally.

In order to commemorate the result of ten years of committed and tenacious efforts to acquire and restore Dos Rios Ranch, River Partners and the Trust hosted a celebration on May 21, 2012. High ranking officials from federal and state agencies as well as community members attended this milestone event. A commonly acknowledged theme at the celebration, the successful coordinated efforts of many entities on the acquisition of Dos Rios Ranch will combine habitat protection and restoration for wildlife, with flood control, recreation and educational opportunities for the public, for many years to come.

If you have any questions about this article, please contact: Caroline Prose, Co-Program Manager for the CVPIA Habitat Restoration Program

Contact Info: Caroline Prose, 916-414-6575, Caroline_Prose@fws.gov