Shorebird conservation - Farming for Wildlife

Farming for Wildlife was a pilot project of The Nature Conservancy aimed at providing shorebird habitat on farmland in western Washington State. In 2006, Ecostudies Institute designed and executed a 4-year study on 3 private farms that investigated the effect of three agricultural practices (flooding, grazing, and haying) on soils, weeds, invertebrates and shorebirds. The project was conducted in the Skagit River delta, WA.

Management of agricultural lands presents one of the best opportunities for improving the value of human-modified wetlands for wildlife. Coastal wetland ecosystems provide habitat for many wildlife species, but are highly threatened due to the widespread conversion of native wetland habitats to other uses, particularly agriculture. This project was aimed at determining whether flooding farm fields could be integrated into a crop rotation program, providing wildlife habitat while maintaining current human use.

Shorebird conservation - Farming for Wildlife

Key Findings

  • We found more shorebirds used flooded fields than field with two other traditional agricultural practices, grazing and forage harvest, but the effect was seasonal.
  • The greatest benefit to shorebirds was during the fall, with intermediate benefit in the spring. There was no effect of treatment during the winter, probably due to the amount of standing water found on fields across the landscape due to winter rains.
  • Shorebird abundance and richness decreased with time since flooding. Declines may reflect changes in features related to habitat quality, such as the extent and depth of water, food availability, or the amount of vegetation on the fields.
  • At the end of the study, plant-available nitrogen was higher on the flooded treatment than the grazed or forage harvest treatment. Nitrogen is a key plant nutrient highly managed in agricultural systems and often limiting in soils.
  • We found weed abundance did not differ among treatments, suggesting flooding fields is as effective at controlling weeds as the two traditional agricultural practices.

Reports

  • Slater, G. L. and J. D. Lloyd. 2010. Farming for wildlife: effects of flooding, forage harvest, and grazing on shorebirds, soil invertebrates, and vegetation on agricultural fields in the Skagit River delta, Final Report to The Nature Conservancy. {PDF}
  • Slater, G. L. and J. D. Lloyd. 2010. Farming for wildlife: effects of flooding, forage harvest, and grazing on soil properties and weed abundance on agricultural fields in the Skagit River delta, Final Report to The Nature Conservancy. {PDF}

Shorebird conservation - Farming for Wildlife