As California’s historic drought continues, the implications for the state’s environment and wildlife are becoming more apparent. California’s working landscapes provide important habitat for some wildlife. Consider birds and rice. Cultivated rice serves some of the functions of disappearing wetland areas; fields are used as a nesting place for ducks, geese and other migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway. The drought threatens to upset that delicate balance. Joe Serna (@JosephSerna) writes a must-read piece for the Los Angeles Times.
Although almonds, lemons and avocados often come to mind when people think about California agriculture, the state also produces rice. Last year, about 408,000 acres of rice were planted. This year? About 375,000 acres, a decrease of 30%, per the California Rice Commission. The drought is forcing producers to fallow acres. And that will impact the state’s wildlife.
Mark Biddlecomb, director of a wetlands conservation group, told Los Angeles Times reporter Joe Serna this:
In the fall, after the rice is harvested, the fields are flooded and the remaining grain becomes food for up to 7 million ducks and geese in the Sacramento River Valley, he said. If the crop is reduced, the feeding area becomes more concentrated, which makes the population more vulnerable to diseases.
“I hate to say it’s cascading, but it kind of is,” Biddlecomb said of the drought’s effects.
Wonder why California produces rice? Some answers can be found in Rice Production in California, a report produced by Daniel Geisseler and William R. Horwath for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). They write:
“During the gold rush, most of the food for the mining camps had to be imported. This include large quantities of rice, which was the staple food for tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants. In the years following the gold rush, rice imports remained high. In 1876, more than 50 million pounds of rice were imported into California, predominantly from China
Rice production was first promoted in California in the 1850s to substitute the large quantities imported at a comparatively high price.”