SONEC Working Wet Meadows

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

The IWJV established the SONEC Working Wet Meadows Initiative (WWMI) to help ranchers continue traditional irrigation management practices that have been used for generations to produce forage, provide wildlife habitat, and sustain ranching communities.

  • Why flood irrigation is important

    Flood irrigation on historic floodplains and wetlands in the SONEC region is critically important for sustaining waterbird populations throughout western North America. More than six million wetland-dependent migratory birds rely on these working wet meadows in the SONEC region for successful migration and reproduction each year.

Science and Planning

The IWJV and its partners, including the U.S. Geological Survey and Ducks Unlimited, completed a comprehensive analysis of the habitat needs of waterfowl in SONEC during spring migration. Results of this study establish population objectives for two-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.

Understanding the perspectives of the landowners is important in balancing the needs of agricultural production and profitability.

In 2017-18, conservation partners in the Intermountain West undertook a human dimensions research project to better understand the relationship between working wet meadows, agricultural production, and bird habitat. The purpose of the project was to learn from landowners about their conservation activities, especially their attitudes regarding flood irrigation and what they consider when making irrigation and other land management decisions. Understanding the perspectives of the landowners is important in balancing the needs of agricultural production and profitability. Read more about this human dimensions research project.

In 2018, important information gaps were filled relative to spatiotemporal dynamics of wetland and irrigated habitats providing data through new SONEC Wetland Dynamic Assessments. In 2019, the IWJV will revise waterfowl population goals to update SONEC conservation planning objectives for both fall and spring migration; coordinate planning efforts with partners in the SONEC region; and deliver recently completed wetland evaluations to partners to inform their conservation delivery programs

In 2019, the ongoing sandhill crane project will begin to link bird movements to shifting land use and climatic patterns that influence wetland resiliency. And, to better understand how changing policies intended to increase water use efficiencies may be affecting bird populations, a new white-faced ibis project will also be initiated.

Conservation Delivery

Seventy-four percent of wet meadows in the SONEC region are on working ranchlands, making private landowners essential to maintaining these critical habitats for numerous wildlife species. The IWJV established the SONEC WWMI to help ranchers continue traditional irrigation management practices that have been used for generations to produce forage, provide wildlife habitat, and sustain ranching communities.

The SONEC WWMI is supported by Oregon NRCS and local partners to deliver private lands wet meadows conservation under the Oregon NRCS Working Lands for Waterbird Habitat Conservation Implementation Strategy, SONEC Regional Conservation Partnership Program  (RCPP), and state-based applications of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Agricultural Land Easement program. To implement projects across the broad SONEC geography, partners have pooled resources to fund two Farm Bill biologists and a SONEC Conservation Delivery Coordinator. Farm Bill biologists implement NRCS programs in Lake and Harney Counties, and the SONEC Conservation Delivery Coordinator provides oversight for the biologists and assists with wet meadow conservation activities across the region. A multitude of partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, watershed councils, conservation districts, Ducks Unlimited, California Waterfowl Association, and land trusts are collaborating through this initiative to assist ranchers with improving waterfowl habitat and conserve working lands.

In 2016, the IWJV assisted with securing an additional $2.6 million for working wet meadows conservation. The funding was awarded through the NRCS RCPP for Agricultural Land Easements, Conservation Stewardship Program, and Environmental Quality Incentives Program activities in the SONEC region over a four-year period. 

In 2019, the SONEC WWMI starts its sixth year of implementation with a new interagency agreement between Oregon NRCS and the IWJV, designed to achieve IWJV habitat objectives as part of Oregon NRCS’ Strategic Approach to Conservation. 

Working ranchlands provide important ecosystem services including clean water, groundwater recharge, and habitat for fish and wildlife. In turn, local communities benefit from the agricultural productivity and recreational opportunities supported by these lands.