Pop-up wetlands help California farmers and migratory birds

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Millions of birds migrate along the Pacific Flyway each year, traveling along an aerial highway that stretches from Mexico up to the Arctic. Although birds cover impressive distances along the way, they still need places to rest. California was once home to an estimated 4 million acres of wetlands in the pre-settlement 1800s. But today, 90 to 95 percent of that habitat has disappeared.

In seasons of drought, like the one we’ve experienced in the past year, the lack of wetlands can be devastating to bird populations. However a new program in California’s Central Valley is temporarily using farmland to create “pop-up” wetlands, which serve as rest stops for traveling birds.

“Preserving migratory birds is one of the great all-time conservation challenges,” Dr. Mark Reynolds told me in a phone interview. Reynolds is the lead scientist for migratory bird conservation for The Nature Conservancy's California Program, one of the organizations working on this project. He explained that birds move across such a large swath of territory that it's difficult to know where to concentrate conservation efforts.

On the following pages of this slide show, you'll see more gorgeous photos from The Nature Conservancy, and learn how the project combines big data with free-market tools to help birds.

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