Southern Oregon-Northeastern California

The Southern Oregon and Northeastern California (SONEC) region is one of the Intermountain West Joint Venture’s (IWJV) 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.

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.

Flood irrigation on historic floodplains and wetlands in the SONEC region is critically important for sustaining waterbird populations throughout western North America. More than 6 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 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.

Important information gaps were filled in 2018 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 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 andowners is important in balancing the needs of agricultural production and profitability. Read more about this human dimensions research project here.

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

In 2016, the IWJV assisted with securing an additional $2.6 million for working wet meadows conservation. The funding was awarded through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) for Agricultural Land Easements, Conservation Stewardship Program, and Environmental Quality Incentives Program activities in the SONEC region over a four-year period. Click here to find out more. Our primary focus will be to assist Oregon NRCS and partners in delivering private lands wet meadow conservation under the Oregon NRCS Working Lands for Waterbird Habitat Conservation Implementation Strategy, SONEC RCPP, and state-based applications of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Agricultural Land Easement Program.

In addition, partners have pooled resources to fund two Farm Bill biologists that are actively delivering NRCS programs in Lake and Harney Counties. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and several NGO’s are working in collaboration with NRCS programs and complimenting NRCS habitat delivery efforts.

Seventy-four percent of key wet meadows in the SONEC region are on privately-owned working ranchlands, making private landowners essential to maintaining habitats critical to these species. The IWJV established the SONEC Working Wet Meadows Initiative to help ranchers continue traditional irrigation management practices that have been used for generations to produce forage, provide wildlife habitat, and sustain ranching communities. In 2019, the SONEC Working Wet Meadows Initiative 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’s Strategic Approach to Conservation.

Key Resources on IWJV’s Work in SONEC: