Migratory birds may be hit especially hard by climate change – particularly waterbirds that depend on wetlands as resting and feeding sites during their journey between breeding and non-breeding grounds. California’s Central Valley and the interior basins of southeastern Oregon and northeastern California provide some of the most critical wetlands resources to migratory waterbirds in the western U.S. However, these wetlands rely heavily on snow pack and precipitation for water supply, both of which have already decreased due to climate change. Of further concern is the fact that drought conditions resulting from climate change could exacerbate existing water allocation issues in the region.
Researchers are examining the potential impacts of drought on wetland-dependent migratory waterbirds in the Central Valley and interior basins. First, researchers are identifying plausible future habitat scenarios, based on potential changes to climate and possible water allocation decisions that could be made in the two regions, and are determining what these scenarios would mean for waterbirds. Researchers are also modeling how habitat conditions affect bird populations, in order to uncover how projected changes to habitat could influence the long-term survival of waterbirds. Finally, researchers will create a decision-support tool communicating the potential effects of climate change on waterbirds to conservation planners.
The most pressing conservation issues in the Central Valley and interior basins are climate change and ongoing conflicts surrounding water allocation. This study addresses a need to understand the impacts of drought and water allocation policies in the regions on wetlands and the waterbirds that depend on them. This assessment will also contribute to more integrated and efficient climate adaptation planning in the region. Currently, wetland conservation is managed separately by the Central Valley Joint Venture and the Intermountain West Joint Venture, despite the fact that the two regions share bird populations. This assessment examines both regions as a whole, enabling planning to occur across Joint Venture boundaries.