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Home » News/Events » The Journal » Vol. 12 Issue 1 » Feather River Riparian Habitat Restoration Project Kick-off

Feather River Riparian Habitat Restoration Project Kick-off

  • By David Neubert, VP Business Development
  • Helen Swagerty, Sr. Restoration Biologist
Swainson’s hawk (Buteo swainsoni). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 2014, the the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) FloodSAFE Environmental Stewardship and Statewide Resources Office (FESSRO) awarded Three Rivers Levee Improvement Authority (TRLIA) $4.4 million to develop 500 acres of perennial grasslands, mixed riparian forest, riparian scrub and valley oak woodland and to establish a mechanism to provide advance credits to offset future compensatory mitigation requirements for impacts associated with the construction and maintenance activities related to the flood control system. In August 2014, River Partners signed a $2.9 million contract with TRLIA to design and restore 500 acres of riparian habitat within the Feather River Setback Area (a new floodway created when the Feather River was set back a half mile on a 7 mile reach), just south of Marysville, CA. The project is adjacent and easily linked to other State and private conservation and recreational areas that are located along a section of the Feather River that which currently provides over 3,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

Helen Swagerty, Senior Biologist with River Partners, notes that “We have worked with the Three Rivers Levee Improvement Authority for the past ten years, and this partnership has resulted in over 700 acres of habitat restoration. The new project is unique in that its goal is to allow DWR to mitigate levee repair and maintenance work in advance of the actual work being done. This has the potential to streamline the mitigation process and help reduce costs in the long run. We are excited to be part of this new approach to the regulatory process.”

Yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus).

In addition to providing open space for public recreation and mitigation opportunities, the project will create critical habitat for a number of threatened and endangered species, including Swainson’s hawk, which has one of the longest round-trip migrations of any raptor found in the Americas. When in California, this hawk prefers to hunt small rodents and other prey in fields and grasslands, and the 200 acres of native grassland created in this project will provide significant habitat for Swainson’s hawks that return from Argentina each spring to nest in the Central Valley of California.

The 300 acres of riparian forest to be planted as part of this project will create potential habitat for the many other species, including the yellow-billed cuckoo. The population of this endangered species is approaching a tipping point where extinction is a very strong possibility. Recent bird surveys estimated that the Sacramento Valley has only approximately 25 breeding pairs left. The yellow-billed cuckoo population has been decimated by the loss of riparian forests in the Central Valley. This bird has a large territory, which ranges from 20-100 acres of cottonwood forest. With 95 % of the riparian habitat forest lost in the State, the yellow-billed cuckoo has slipped into near extinction. The Feather River Project will make a small contribution to bringing back habitat for this bird, and provide an opportunity for breeding pairs to utilize the new habitat created by River Partners, DWR and the Three Rivers Levee Improvement Authority.

The above article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of the River Partners Journal.