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Agricultural production and wildlife conservation are often at odds in California’s Central Valley. Agriculture is the driving force behind California’s economy, but it requires a lot of water and land. Meanwhile wildlife species are losing critical habitat to residential and commercial development, and drought conditions are leaving many riparian corridors and wetlands completely dry. As a result, critical habitat for iconic western species such as the Swainsons Hawk, Mule Deer and Salmon has been depleted. And this is only expected to get worse in the coming years.
The state estimates that at least 600,000 acres of high quality habitat will need to be restored and conserved in the coming decades. So how will California face the challenge of recovering critical habitat while also preserving valuable agricultural lands? Many in the conservation community are now turning to the Central Valley Habitat Exchange for answers.
The Central Valley Habitat Exchange is creating a framework for effective habitat conservation in the Central Valley by actively engaging farmers and ranchers in the fulfillment of state conservation goals and mitigation
obligations while improving ecosystem function.
The Exchange aims to increase the supply of protected and restored habitat in the Central Valley by creating profitable opportunities for landowners to protect and enhance high quality habitat.
With 70 percent of the land in the Central Valley under private ownership, effective conservation for species must include programs compatible with working lands. The Central Valley Habitat Exchange creates this compatibility by allowing habitat to be traded as a commodity, just like crops.
By measuring the quality of habitat at a particular site, a credit value is assigned that willing landowners can sell to private and public investors. Investors include state agencies seeking habitat for mitigation requirements or restoration mandates, in addition to private developers with standalone mitigation needs.
Through the Exchange, farmers and ranchers will be paid to “grow” habitat for at-risk wildlife, such as flooded fields for salmon and migratory birds, riparian forest for Swainson’s hawk, and wetland habitat for giant garter snakes. The result will be a new funding stream that offers landowners the ability to earn revenue by implementing innovative strategies to restore high-quality habitat.
"I’ve feared for many years that the monarch might reach the point that it will require protections under the Endangered Species Act – a last resort that signals a dire state for the iconic and beloved species. But a recent trip to [field testing of the Habitat Quantification Tool in] California gave me great hope that it’s not too late to change the monarch’s trajectory."
David Wolfe, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)