Federal money benefits San Joaquin refuge

Approximately $3M will increase area for fowl

jholland@modbee.comMay 16, 2013 

DN SJ River Refuge

DEBBIE NODA/dnoda@modbee.com Sandhill cranes in the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge off Beckwith Rd. (11-17-11)

DEBBIE NODA — Modesto Bee Buy Photo

    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
    Recent stories written by John
    E-mail: jholland@modbee.com

Waterfowl that visit a refuge west of Modesto could benefit from about $3.5 million in federal spending announced this week.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to use the money to buy conservation easements on 367 privately owned acres in the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge.

The money will go to farmers who agree to continue practices that help the birds, said Michael Woodbridge, public affairs officer for the agency in Sacramento.

Leaving stubble after a fall corn harvest, for example, provides food for birds arriving for winter. Cattle grazing keeps grasses from obscuring bugs that some of the fowl like to eat.

"Wildlife are already using these lands because of the wildlife-friendly crops that are grown there," Woodbridge said in an email Wednesday. "Those current management practices will continue under the easements."

The money comes from the sale of duck stamps, which are purchased by hunters of migratory birds. The easement sites already have been chosen.

The refuge, established in 1987, covers 12,887 acres where the Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers join the San Joaquin. It is a remnant of the Central Valley's once-vast riverside forests, which often flooded in winter and spring, creating rich habitat.

The refuge helped with the recovery of the Aleutian cackling goose, which migrates from southwest Alaska to spend winter at this site and nearby farmland owned by the Lyons and Gallo families.

"The San Joaquin Refuge protects the wintering grounds for most of the world's population of Aleutian cackling geese," manager Kim Forrest said in a news release. "In 25 years, this population has grown from an endangered 800 to a population of 125,000 and was removed from the Endangered Species Act list during the process.

"These funds will protect habitat for the Aleutian geese, as well as other goose, crane and water-bird species."

The Fish and Wildlife Service owns some of the refuge outright and manages other parts through conservation easements.

The new easements will be within the current refuge boundaries, set by Congress. The Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed a near doubling to 22,156 acres over several decades, stretching it to the Lathrop area on the north and connecting with the much larger San Luis National Wildlife Refuge to the south.

The sale of duck stamps has raised more than $800 million to acquire about 6 million refuge acres across the nation since 1934. They serve as hunting licenses for the buyers and as entrance passes at refuges that charge for admission.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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