SONEC (Southern Oregon-Northeastern California)

Southern Oregon-Northeastern California (SONEC) is one of the Intermountain West Joint Venture’s highest priority landscapes for conservation for a number of reasons. It is a rich mosaic of rural wetlands, wet meadows, and irrigated pasturelands that provide critical migration and breeding habitat for a myriad of North American bird species.

Research shows that SONEC provides crucial breeding habitat for waterfowl. More than 20% of North America’s entire breeding population of Cinnamon Teal and 18% of the Pacific Flyway Population (PFP) of mallards and redheads breed in SONEC.

This vast and productive region also serves as a “hub” during spring and fall migration. Up to 70% of the Pacific Flyway’s migrating birds pass through here. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that at least 2 million waterfowl stop in SONEC during spring migration accounting for at least 128 million use-days annually. Northern Pintails are prevalent and 30% of the continental pintail population relies on SONEC to meet their food energy needs during spring migration. The region also supports impressive numbers of migrating tundra swans, greater white-fronted geese, lesser snow geese, and Ross’s geese.

The SONEC region is critically important to shorebird populations in the Intermountain West. Eight of the 18 Key Shorebird Sites identified by the IWJV occur in SONEC.  Seven areas surpass the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network criteria for regional significance. Important shorebird species found in SONEC, which include snowy plovers, American avocets, willet, Wilson’s phalarope, least and western sandpipers and long-billed curlews.

SONEC also attracts impressive waterbird breeding populations. Many of these species are experiencing continental declines making SONEC a high priority for immediate conservation action. Keystone waterbird species found in SONEC include Greater sandhill crane, yellow rail, white-faced ibis, American white pelican, Clark’s grebe, and black-crowned night heron.

Bioenergetic Modeling

The IWJV and its partners, including the U.S. Geological Survey and Ducks Unlimited, recently completed a comprehensive analysis of the habitat needs of waterfowl in SONEC during spring migration. Using a bioenergetics modeling process, IWJV staff and partners collaborated to step down NAWMP population objectives to SONEC. They then assessed the capability of the landscape to meet the energetic demands of waterfowl at goal levels during this critical point in their annual life cycle.

Results of IWJV’s bioenergetic modeling are presented in the 2013 Implementation Plan and establish population objectives for 2-week time periods in the spring. These data determined that in SONEC, 64,700 acres of flood-irrigated or similar habitats are needed to meet 75% of the foraging needs for dabbling ducks during spring migration, outside of the Lower Klamath Sub-Region.

Conservation Delivery

The region’s floodplains, seasonal wetlands, and riparian habitat have undergone considerable change since European settlement. Historically, wet meadows and wetlands are recharged by snowmelt and seasonal rains. Today, natural runoff is diverted to provide irrigation water for producing livestock forage. Ironically, flood-irrigation closely mimics the natural hydrologic cycle and research shows that SONEC continues to provide valuable migratory bird habitat and forage for livestock producers.

The IWJV is supporting a science-based, collaborative and partner-driven approach to conservation delivery in SONEC. Over the last 15 years, conservation delivery opportunities have focused on enhancing wetland habitat on public lands and assisting livestock producers with repairing flood-irrigated infrastructure. In the past, North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grants have been an important funding mechanism for this work. Looking ahead, the robust SONEC partnership hopes to add two new Farm Bill biologist positions to forward delivery of Farm Bill Conservation Program funds in the region. Learn more about how Farm Bill Conservation Programs can meet the needs of spring-migrating waterfowl in SONEC here. The primary focus of this effort will be to work cooperatively with private landowners on a watershed scale. The objectives of this effort will be to accelerate riparian habitat restoration, repair flood-irrigated infrastructure and transact voluntary conservation easements.

The SONEC Working Wet Meadows Initiative (WWMI) was recently awarded a Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project that strategically combines $2.6M in Farm Bill program funding with $4.97M in partner contributions to conserve over 20,000 acres of privately owned wet meadow habitats and improve resiliency of working ranchlands to drought. Click here to find out more.

Click here to find all SONEC Working Wet Meadow Initiative reports and plans.


Did you see IWJV's webinar titled "Meeting the Needs of Spring-migrating Waterfowl in the Intermountain West on Working Ranches"? Watch the presentation here!


In early 2015, a gathering of 80 landowners and managers as well as conservation and government organization staff from the SONEC region came to Susanville, California to discuss collaboration for their working ranches and landscapes. Learn what happened here!