Rice crop, birds at risk

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Joseph Serna joseph.serna@la­times.com

The nests of hun­dreds of thou­sands of birds and the food for mil­lions more could be im­per­iled this year be­cause of fewer rice crops in Cal­i­for­nia — the lat­est symp­tom of the state’s his­toric drought.

About 375,000 acres of rice are ex­pected to be planted this year, a 30% de­crease from a typ­i­cal year and the low­est in Cal­i­for­nia since 1991, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the Cal­i­for­nia Rice Com­mis­sion.

In sum­mer, the rice is used as nest­ing for na­tive mal­lards and shore birds, said Mark Bid­dle­comb, a direc­tor of Ducks Un­lim­ited, a wet­lands con­ser­va­tion group.

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.

In 2014, only about 408,000 acres of rice were planted. If not for a for­tu­itous spell of strong win­ter storms in late De­cem­ber that ex­panded feed­ing grounds, an out­break of Avian bot­u­lism within the fowl pop­u­la­tion would have spread fur­ther, he said.

“This com­ing win­ter, if that doesn’t hap­pen, and if we don’t use our wa­ter re­sources wisely … we can re­ally be in a world of hurt,” Bid­dle­comb said.

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