Photo: Blake Barbaree/Point Blue
As agencies wrangle over how best to protect the Delta’s dwindling native fish species, researchers want to see more consideration to the needs of the estuary’s birds.
“If we want to restore the ecology of the Delta, we can’t just be looking in the water,” says Kristen E. Dybala of Point Blue Conservation Science. In a paper published
in San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science, Dybala and two co-authors make the case that “birds and their habitat needs are often not addressed in science syntheses, conservation planning, and large-scale restoration initiatives in the Delta.” While some birds use the same sloughs and channels that support such high-profile fishes as Chinook salmon and Delta smelt, other bird species rely on habitat types that fringe the Delta’s waterways. Indeed, while general habitat restoration in the Delta can provide multiple benefits for humans, fish and many birds, the authors observe that numerous bird species “have a specialized set of habitat needs that require particular attention.” Historically, the Delta and the Central Valley provided millions of acres of habitat for uncountable droves of resident and migratory birds. Much has changed: The authors write that “an estimated 97% of historical freshwater emergent wetland in the Delta, 77% of seasonal wetlands, and 77% of riparian forest are now gone, primarily converted to agricultural land.” Still, the Estuary and the farmland fringing it remain a critical refuge for many species, and over time, this importance may amplify. Considering current and future “changes to the composition and configuration of the Delta’s landscape,” as well as expected species range shifts, the authors predict that “the Delta may become even more important to birds under future climate change. Thus, bird conservation in the Delta is more important than ever.”