, Volume 30, Issue 5, pp 939–947 | Cite as

Changes in the Status of Harvested Rice Fields in the Sacramento Valley, California: Implications for Wintering Waterfowl

  • Michael R. MillerEmail author
  • Jay D. Garr
  • Peter S. Coates


Harvested rice fields provide critical foraging habitat for wintering waterfowl in North America, but their value depends upon post-harvest treatments. We visited harvested ricefields in the Sacramento Valley, California, during the winters of 2007 and 2008 (recent period) and recorded their observed status as harvested (standing or mechanically modified stubble), burned, plowed, or flooded. We compared these data with those from identical studies conducted during the 1980s (early period). We documented substantial changes in field status between periods. First, the area of flooded rice increased 4–5-fold, from about 15% to >40% of fields, because of a 3–4-fold increase in the percentage of fields flooded coupled with a 37–41% increase in the area of rice produced. Concurrently, the area of plowed fields increased from <22% to >35% of fields, burned fields declined from about 40% to 1%, and fields categorized as harvested declined from 22–54% to <15%. The increased flooding has likely increased access to food resources for wintering waterfowl, but this benefit may not be available to some goose species, and may be at least partially countered by the increase of plowed fields, especially those left dry, and the decrease of fields left as harvested. We encourage waterfowl managers to implement a rice field status survey in the Sacramento Valley and other North American rice growing regions as appropriate to support long-term monitoring programs and wetland habitat conservation planning for wintering waterfowl.


Field status Flooded Foraging habitat Survey 



We thank F. A. Reid of Ducks Unlimited, Inc., R. D. Shaffer of the Central Valley Joint Venture, and P. G. Buttner of the California Rice Commission for providing funds to support the new research. R. S. Holbrook of the Central Valley Joint Venture assisted with project coordination, and T. Allen-Hurst of Ducks Unlimited prepared the contracts and provided rice grower survey data. The California Waterfowl Association funded and J. H. Day conducted the 1988 survey, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funded the 1985 and 1986 surveys. C. S. Elphick, D. A. Haukos and M. A. Wolder provided many suggestions to improve the manuscript. J. L. Yee assisted with the statistical analyses. The use of trade, product, or firm names in this publication is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. government.


  1. Ackerman JT, Takekawa JY, Orthmeyer DL, Fleskes JP, Yee JL, Kruse KL (2006) Spatial use by wintering greater white-fronted geese relative to a decade of habitat change in California’s Central Valley. Journal of Wildlife Management 70:965–976CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Akaike H (1973) Information theory and an extension of the maximum likelihood principle. In: Petrov BN, Csaki F (eds) Second International Symposium on Information Theory. Akademiai Kiado, Budapest, pp 267–281Google Scholar
  3. Anderson DR (2008) Model based inference in the life sciences: a primer on evidence. Springer, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baldassarre GA, Bolen EG (1984) Field-feeding ecology of waterfowl wintering on the southern high plains of Texas. Journal of Wildlife Management 48:63–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baldassarre GA, Whyte RJ, Quinlan EE, Bolen EG (1983) Dynamics and quality of waste corn available to postbreeding waterfowl in Texas. Wildlife Society Bulletin 11:25–31Google Scholar
  6. Bateman HA, Joanen T, Stutzenbaker CD (1988) History and status of midcontinent snow geese on their Gulf Coast winter range. In: Weller MW (ed) Waterfowl in winter. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, pp 495–516Google Scholar
  7. Bates D, Maechler M, Dai B (2008) Lme4: linear mixed-effects models using S4 classes. R package version 0.99375-27. Available via DIALOG. Accessed 31 August 2009
  8. Bird JA, Pettygrove GS, Eadie JM (2000) The impact of waterfowl foraging on the decomposition of rice straw: mutual benefits for rice growers and waterfowl. Journal of Applied Ecology 37:728–741CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. California Department of Conservation (2008) Farmland mapping and monitoring program. Division of Land Resource Protection. Available via DIALOG. Accessed 5 August 2009
  10. California Department of Water Resources (2008) California cooperative snow surveys, DWR Bulletin 120, February 2008. Available via DIALOG. Accessed 5 August 2009
  11. California Rice Commission (2009) CRC moves forward to prepare for climate change regulations. California Rice Commission Newsletter 11, No. 3. Sacramento, CA. Available via DIALOG. Accessed 5 August 2009
  12. California State Water Resources Control Board (2008) End of Term 91diversion curtailments in 2008. State Water Resources Control Board, Nov 18, 2008, item 13–executive director’s report. Available via DIALOG. Accessed 5 August 2009
  13. Central Valley Joint Venture (2006) Central Valley Joint Venture Implementation Plan—Conserving bird habitat. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento, CA. Available via DIALOG. Accessed 17 August 2009
  14. Day JH (1989) Rice field status 1988. Unpublished report. California Waterfowl Association, SacramentoGoogle Scholar
  15. Day JH (1997) Fall and winter use of harvested rice fields by Pacific Flyway white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons). Thesis, California State UniversityGoogle Scholar
  16. Day JH, Colwell MA (1998) Waterbird communities in rice fields subjected to different post-harvest treatments. Colonial Waterbirds 21:185–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ducks Unlimited (2000) Winter-flooded rice acres expand. Valley-Bay Care, Issue 25, Spring 2000. Ducks Unlimited Inc, SacramentoGoogle Scholar
  18. Eadie JM, Elphick CS, Reinecke KJ, Miller MR (2008) Wildlife values of North American ricelands. In: Manley SW (ed) Conservation in ricelands of North America. The Rice Foundation, Stuttgart, pp 7–90Google Scholar
  19. Elphick CS (2000) Functional equivalency between rice fields and seminatural wetland habitats. Conservation Biology 14:181–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Elphick CS (2004) Assessing conservation trade-offs: identifying the effects of flooding rice fields for waterbirds on non-target bird species. Biological Conservation 117:105–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Elphick CS, Oring LW (1998) Winter management of Californian rice fields for waterbirds. Journal of Applied Ecology 35:95–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Elphick CS, Oring LW (2003) Conservation implications of flooding rice fields on winter waterbird communities. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 94:17–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Faraway JJ (2006) Extending the linear model with R: generalized linear, mixed effects and nonparametric regression models. Chapman and Hall, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  24. Fleskes JP, Perry WM, Petrik KL, Spell R, Reid F (2005a) Changes in area of winter-flooded and dry rice in the northern Central Valley of California determined by satellite imagery. California Fish and Game 91:207–215Google Scholar
  25. Fleskes JP, Yee JL, Casazza ML, Miller MR, Takekawa JY, Orthmeyer DL (2005b) Waterfowl distribution, movements, and habitat use relative to recent habitat changes in the Central Valley of California: A cooperative project to investigate impacts of the Central Valley Joint Venture and changing agricultural practices on the ecology of wintering waterfowl. Final report. US Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center, Dixon Field Station, Dixon, CAGoogle Scholar
  26. Fleskes JP, Yee JL, Miller MR, Casazza ML (2007) Pintail and mallard survival in California relative to habitat, abundance, and hunting. Journal of Wildlife Management 71:2238–2248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Greer DM, Dugger BD, Reinecke KJ, Petrie MJ (2009) Depletion of rice as food of waterfowl wintering in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. Journal of Wildlife Management 73:1125–1133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Havens JH (2007) Winter abundance of waterfowl, waterbirds, and waste rice in managed Arkansas rice fields. Thesis, Mississippi State UniversityGoogle Scholar
  29. Heitmeyer ME (1989) Agricultural/wildlife enhancement in California: the Central Valley Habitat Joint Venture. Transactions of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference 54:391–402Google Scholar
  30. Hobaugh WC (1984) Habitat use by snow geese wintering in southeast Texas. Journal of Wildlife Management 48:1085–1096CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kross JP, Kaminski RM, Reinecke KJ, Pearse AT (2008) Conserving waste rice for wintering waterfowl in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. Journal of Wildlife Management 72:1383–1387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Leslie JC, Chabreck RH (1984) Winter habitat preference of white-fronted geese in Louiasiana. Transactions of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference 49:519–526Google Scholar
  33. Littlefield CD (2002) Winter foraging habitat of greater sandhill cranes in northern California. Western Birds 33:51–60Google Scholar
  34. Manley SW, Kaminski RM, Reinecke KJ, Gerard PD (2004) Waterbird foods in winter-managed ricefields in Mississippi. Journal of Wildlife Management 68:74–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Manley SW, Rodrigue PB, Mutters RG, Bollich PK (2008) Conserving water quality and quantity in North American ricelands. In: Manley SW (ed) Conservation in ricelands of North America. The Rice Foundation, Stuttgart, pp 119–159Google Scholar
  36. Miller MR (1987) Fall and winter foods of northern pintails in the Sacramento Valley, California. Journal of Wildlife Management 51:405–414CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Miller MR, Newton WE (1999) Population energetics of northern pintails wintering in the Sacramento Valley, California. Journal of Wildlife Management 63:1222–1238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Miller MR, Wylie GD (1996) Preliminary estimate of rice present in strip-harvested fields in the Sacramento Valley, California. California Fish and Game 82:187–191Google Scholar
  39. Miller MR, Sharp DE, Gilmer DS, Mulvaney WR (1989) Rice available to waterfowl in harvested fields in the Sacramento Valley, California. California Fish and Game 75:113–123Google Scholar
  40. National Agricultural Statistics Service (2009) US Department of Agriculture, archived data. Available via DIALOG. Accessed 5 August 2009
  41. Natomas Basin Conservancy (2003) Final Natomas Basin Habitat Conservation Plan, July 2003. City of Sacramento, Sutter County, and The Natomas Basin Conservancy, July 2003. Available via DIALOG. Accessed 18 August 2009
  42. Nelms CO, Twedt DJ (1996) Seed deterioration in flooded agricultural fields during winter. Wildlife Society Bulletin 24:85–88Google Scholar
  43. R Development Core Team (2008) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, ViennaGoogle Scholar
  44. Reinecke KJ, Loesch CR (1996) Integrating research and management to conserve wildfowl (Anatidae) and wetlands in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, USA. Gibier Faune Sauvage, Game Wildlife 13:927–940Google Scholar
  45. Reinecke KJ, Kaminski RM, Moorehead KJ, Hodges JD, Nassar JR (1989) Mississippi Alluvial Valley. In: Smith LM, Pederson RL, Kaminski RM (eds) Habitat management for migrating and wintering waterfowl in North America. Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock, pp 203–247Google Scholar
  46. Sacramento County (2008) Sacramento County Crop and Livestock Report. Sacramento, CA, USA. Available via DIALOG. Accessed 24 August 2009
  47. Spell R, Kempka R, Reid F (1995) Evaluation of winter flooding of ricelands in the Central Valley of California using satellite imagery. In: Campbell KL (ed) Versatility of wetlands in the agricultural landscape. American Society of Agricultural Engineers, 17–20 September 1995, Tampa, FL, pp 357–366Google Scholar
  48. Stafford JD, Kaminski RM, Reinecke KJ, Manley SW (2006) Waste rice for waterfowl in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. Journal of Wildlife Management 70:61–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Thomas DR (2009) Assessment of waterfowl body condition to evaluate the effectiveness of the Central Valley Joint Venture. Thesis, University of CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  50. Zuur AF, Leno EN, Walker NJ, Saveliev AA, Smith GM (2009) Mixed effects models and extensions in ecology with R. Springer, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Society of Wetland Scientists 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael R. Miller
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jay D. Garr
    • 2
  • Peter S. Coates
    • 1
  1. 1.U. S. Geological SurveyWestern Ecological Research CenterDixonUSA
  2. 2.Wildlife Friendly FarmingColusaUSA

Personalised recommendations