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Getting Our Heads Above Water: Integrating Bird Conservation in Planning, Science, and Restoration for a More Resilient Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta

  • Author(s): Dybala, Kristen
  • Gardali, Thomas
  • Melcer, Jr., Ron
  • et al.
Abstract

The Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta is an important region for bird conservation in California, particularly as part of a large, productive estuary on the Pacific Flyway. The Delta currently provides habitat to an abundant, diverse community of birds, but it is likely only a small fraction of what the Delta’s bird community once was. Meeting the goal of restoring a healthy Delta ecosystem is legislatively required to include providing habitat for birds among the conservation goals and strategies in the Delta Plan, yet birds and their habitat needs are often not addressed in science syntheses, conservation planning, and large-scale restoration initiatives in the Delta. In this essay, we provide an avian perspective on the Delta, synthesizing recent scientific work to describe factors that contribute to the Delta’s current importance for birds, and the conservation needs of the diverse array of bird species that call the Delta home. We also evaluate the potential for the Delta to become even more important for birds in the future, incorporating climate change effects, species range shifts, and changes to the composition and configuration of the Delta’s landscape. Finally, recognizing the uncertainties about the Delta’s future landscape and the complexity of this social-ecological system, we provide recommendations—aimed at a higher- level policy and planning audience—for integrating bird conservation with other goals in the Delta. To improve ecosystem integrity, conserve biodiversity, and provide benefits to local communities of people, we urge a focus on creating a more resilient Delta and employing a diversified portfolio of conservation strategies, both old and new.

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