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SACRAMENTO RIVER NWR: Working with The Nature Conservancy to Replace Orchards with Native Habitat
California-Nevada Offices , June 11, 2013
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View of the Sacramento River from the Rio Vista Unit of the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge.
View of the Sacramento River from the Rio Vista Unit of the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge. - Photo Credit: Cindy Sandoval/USFWS
Wild turkey hens escort their young into the grassy areas on the Sacramento River NWR to feed on insects.
Wild turkey hens escort their young into the grassy areas on the Sacramento River NWR to feed on insects. - Photo Credit: Cindy Sandoval/USFWS
Once an orchard, the Rio Vista Unit of the Sacramento River NWR is now mix of native plants and is home to the endangered Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle and the Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo.
Once an orchard, the Rio Vista Unit of the Sacramento River NWR is now mix of native plants and is home to the endangered Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle and the Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo. - Photo Credit: Cindy Sandoval/USFWS

By Cindy Sandoval

The Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is located along the Sacramento River in the northern Central Valley. While the valley and banks of the Sacramento River are currently areas of intensive agriculture production, historically the area was an example of sizeable biodiversity. It was this biodiversity that brought The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) together to form the Sacramento River NWR 24 years ago.

In 1988, little of the Sacramento River’s native riverside riparian or forest habitats remained due to development and agriculture. Refusing to lose this habitat for wildlife and future generations, TNC undertook what was then the largest riparian restoration project in the U.S. The Sacramento River project quickly grew to include partners like the Service, Army Corps of Engineers, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Department of Water Resources, Sacramento River Conservation Area Forum and many others who wished to preserve a place for plants and animals.

The Rio Vista Unit, now part of the Sacramento River NWR, was one of the areas purchased for restoration. This unit was once an almond orchard, but after the orchard failed the owner sold off the acres of trees to be clear cut. What shelter had been provided for wildlife from the nut trees was removed and only the stumps remained. TNC purchased the land and began the laborious task of removing the stumps and planting native trees and shrubs.

Not all the land purchased by TNC was clear cut, some were orchards that still produce almonds, peaches and plums. The non-profit purchases the land, and then the area is entered into a cooperative agreement with the Service. In this agreement the land is turned over to the Service to manage as part of a refuge, but TNC farms the area. The profit from these orchards and farm lands are put back into TNC programs to purchase more land or fund the areas restoration, where the crops will be replaced with native plants.

During the period before the restoration of some refuge units, TNC and the Service worked together to minimize effects of farming on wildlife and their habitat. Both organizations work on many compatible agricultural techniques. These techniques are used because the Service strives to limit the use of pesticides on refuges; this protective measure is in place to ensure the proper use of pesticides on all Service lands. With a limit on the chemicals that can be used on Service land, TNC looked for other ways to deter pests from their orchards. One way was integrated pest management that focused on pheromone disruption. These pheromone disrupters cause confusion among a pest species such as aphids and moths and make it difficult for the insect to find a mate, thus limiting the number of pests present to feed on produce.

Dawit Zeleke with TNC explains the process of working with the Sacramento River NWR staff on pest management, “They wanted to know every chemical used and banned our use of certain chemicals, but it ended up being a good way to engage farmers and find softer systems for pest management.” TNC’s work with more environmentally friendly pest control methods on the Sacramento River NWR and other areas even earned them recognition from the California Environmental Protection Agency.

TNC’s original idea to restore areas along the Sacramento River has helped plant well over a million native seedlings, protected a corridor of 24,000 acres of land, restored 6,000 acres of riparian habitat and formed the Sacramento River NWR which is currently composed of twenty-nine units along a 77-mile stretch of the Sacramento River from Red Bluff to Princeton, Calif. The refuge, in keeping the TNC’s vision of preserving land for wildlife and future generations, has 22 units that are partially or entirely open to the public, and there is no recreation fee. The public is welcome on these sites to hike, ride bikes and partake in many other actives to enjoy the habitat that so many worked for decades to restore.

Cindy Sandoval is a Pathways intern in external affairs at the Pacific Southwest Regional Office in Sacramento, Calif.


Contact Info: Cynthia Sandoval, 916-978-6159, cynthia_d_sandoval@fws.gov



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