Science, big data and economics combine to save a natural wonder.
How Farmers and Birds Find Common Ground
With more than 90 percent of wetlands in the Central Valley turned to farms, birds are running out of places to land during their annual migration. “Pop-up Habitats” are an innovative way to meet the needs of birds and farmers.
By combining crowd-sourced data, hard science and economic incentives, The Nature Conservancy is creating a new market-based system to provide temporary Pop-up Habitats for birds on farm land. It’s an efficient, scalable model that allows us to rent rather than buy habitat, ensuring millions of birds have a few inches of water to rest, roost and feed as they make their epic journey along the Pacific Flyway.
Here’s how science and technology come together. First we pinpoint where and when birds will need to land using data from millions of “e-birders”, next we find out if there will be available water using predictive satellite maps, and then we pay farmers a competitive price to flood their fields at the exact time when the most amount of birds will need to land.
Take a look at the map above and see how we use crowd-sourced bird observation data collected online through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s database to define bird density by time and place (in orange), which is then overlaid with data on water availability (in blue) developed in collaboration with Point Blue Conservation.
And here’s where economics comes in to play. The Nature Conservancy has been working with the California Rice Commission and launched its first-ever reverse auction this past November to create a market-based system that will pay farmers to temporarily flood their fields, resulting in Pop-up Habitats. More than forty competitive bids were selected which will result in approximately 10,000 acres of Pop-up Habitats being created. Our modeling predicts that up to 25% of all shorebirds will be using pop up habitats resulting from our pilot.
Innovation at Scale
Our goal is to build on our pilot success and create a million acres of habitat in the Central Valley—the linchpin of the Pacific Flyway, stretching from Alaska to Patagonia. This powerful and creative approach to conservation delivers results, ensures nature and people thrive together and protects one of nature’s great shows for generations to come.