Western United Dairymen (WUD) along with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Audubon California announced an innovative new conservation project to boost habitat and outreach work for the threatened tricolored blackbird of California.

The partnership was announced during an event held at the Sacramento Zoo, which has been collecting donations to help the struggling bird.

“We’ve been working on this issue for over a decade, long before the tricolored blackbird was listed as endangered,” explained Paul Sousa, WUD director of environmental services. “This is another positive step forward to work collaboratively and progressively with our members and environmental interests to address the problem.”

This project will provide $1.1 million to address factors that challenge dairy farmers and threaten tricolored blackbird populations, with the goal of finding a sustainable solution for management of colonies on farms and saving the species from extinction. In addition to using working lands programs and wetland easements to protect and increase habitat, an educational campaign will help increase awareness of farmers’ role in saving the species in the San Joaquin Valley.

Tricolored blackbirds historically nested in vast wetlands of the Central Valley, but as habitat has declined, the birds have established large nesting colonies in triticale, a plant used for dairy cattle feed. Unfortunately, harvest season coincides with the birds’ nesting season. When these fields are harvested before young birds have fledged, thousands of eggs and nestlings can be lost. In recent years, WUD has worked collaboratively with key partners to support farmers who delay harvests to allow the young birds to fledge. This new grant takes those partnerships to a whole new level.


In addition to delayed harvest, the new partnership will work to entice the birds to nearby wetland easements where they will be able to nest without creating problems for the farmers. Selected easements will be supplied with water and planted with crops preferred by tricolored blackbirds.

A survey of tricolored blackbirds completed last year showed that the birds have declined 44 percent since 2011, prompting the California Fish and Game Commission to approve an emergency listing in December under the state Endangered Species Act.

This partnership is one of six distinct conservation projects selected in California through the new NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). RCPP was created in the 2014 Farm Bill. Each project has its own set of conservation benefits, specific goals and management practices. Nationally, 100 projects were selected, receiving $370 million in total. The four projects that are totally within California borders will receive approximately $12 million with partners providing matching resources to implement the work. PD

—From Western United Dairymen news release