Flood Irrigation for Agriculture Mimics Historical Wet Meadow Habitat

This month, Idaho conservation partners convened with leadership of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to discuss sustaining flood-irrigation through Farm Bill conservation programs. The team toured the Emmett Valley with agricultural producers that are enhancing flood irrigation for wildlife and ranching.

Since much of the West’s freshwater emergent wetlands are privately owned, these private lands are essential to strategic bird conservation efforts. Flood irrigation in historic floodplains, haying, and grazing create the ideal setting for these birds. Traditional agricultural practices mimic the seasonal flooding that occurred before European settlement. Wet meadow and flood-irrigated habitats provide rich food resources that help fuel bird migration and breeding activities. Without this critical habitat during the migrations these birds would suffer a higher mortality rate and reduced ability to produce offspring at their breeding grounds.

Flood-irrigated agricultural lands provide important wetland habitats in Idaho, especially for the White-faced ibis, a waterbird that relies on flooded lands as foraging habitat. In fact, half of the breeding population of ibis can be found in eastern Idaho. 

Many thanks to the partners that facilitated this event in their region, including: NRCS, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Bird Conservation PartnershipDucks UnlimitedIntermountain Bird Observatory, and Idaho agricultural producers. Lastly, special thanks to Idaho NRCS State Conservationist, Curtis Elke, for his leadership and vision in allocating funds this year to support flood-irrigation enhancement projects that benefit wildlife, agriculture, and groundwater recharge!