Transcripts of G2015-070_Temporary_Wetlands

So in the Central Valley, we once had a vast system of about four million acres of wetlands and wetland-like features, this integrated mosaic of wet stuff. And since that time, we've lost about 95% of those habitats. [chime] California's Central Valley is home to one of the largest agro-ecosystems on the planet. Since the loss of the wetlands, migratory birds are now very dependant on what's happening on that agricultural land to find places to forage and to spend the winter. So our work with farmers is really an integral part of the flyway. Waterbirds need water to give them access to a lot of the food resources. Shorebirds in particular eat a lot of the aquatic invertebrates that grow in the water. And so, by knowing where the water is, we can really maximize the value of the restoration and conservation we do for waterbirds in the Central Valley. The NASA and USGS data that are available allow us to make the distribution maps on the probability that water might be in any given pixel – so that's a 30-meter by 30-meter cell anywhere within the Central Valley of California. The real value of the satellite, and Landsat archive, is that we are able to look at the water distribution at a very fine spatial scale so that's a 30- by 30-meter pixel, which is really relevant in terms of understanding habitat for migratory water birds. We're also able then to look at that across a very large spatial extent of the entire Central Valley. Point Blue Conservation Science has been one of our trusted conservation partners at the Nature Conservancy for many many years and so I reached out to our partners at Point Blue and we started working together on these Landsat data to try and perfect ways that we could use to predict water availability in the Central Valley. So simultaneously, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology was really making great strides in using citizen science data to predict when and where birds would occur. I'm Steve Kelling, I'm the Director of Information sciences at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I run a project called eBird. eBird is a citizen scientist project that engages the public to submit checklists of their bird observations to a central database. Currently we collect about a 100 million observations per year. What makes eBird unique, though, is that because we collect data year round, we can essentially describe the entire life history of a bird or a population of birds as the move throughout the landscape. So when we think of how a bird moves across a hemisphere, we can use MODIS landcover information to allow us to make these habitat relationships with particular species of birds. And with that kind of relationship we can then make predictions in areas where we don't have information about birds but we do have information about the habitats that they're in. What we're able to show was that there was a high correlation between abundance of shorebirds with rice farming and then go out to the rice fields and feed during the day and then go to the refuges at night to roost. And the a-ha moment really came with putting these two datasets together and realizing that there were some horrible mis-matches. So we had models predicting high abundances of birds at times when there was not very much water. And that made us realize there was something we could do out there to make that place better for birds at that time. Our program Bird Returns allows us to work directly with farmers to help them help us create bird habitat. Rice farmers typically flood their fields to grow the crop, so we knew there was water available just not at the right times and places to help the birds. So by working with rice farmers we were able to essentially rent their fields for a couple weeks a year, and instead of growing rice, create the conditions which would grow birds or create habitat for wintering birds. Look, these birds are migratory superheroes. They mystify us. The shorebirds we work with are breeding in Alaska and wintering as far south as southern Peru. We're talking up to 20,000 kilometers each year, some of these small birds are flying. So it behooves us to help them on their journey, provide this food resource for them but to do it in a responsible way that again shows our respect for the limited resource that water is, today, in the Western United States. Bird Returns is having a lot of impact, both for wetland conditions and for farmers, but also for the birds. And we're monitoring birds on all of the fields that we flood out there and we're comparing those with bird observations on fields that aren't flooded. So we're finding densities that are 30 times greater on our fields than on the comparison control fields. The ability of them to use refuge lands and a compatible agricultural landscape allows us to manage the whole valley as an integrated matrix. This is really the power of using these kinds of data to make conservation decisions. Not only for the Nature Conservancy but also for public lands and private land managers.