Endangered Species Recovery Program

Home | News | Publications | Species profiles | Data and maps | About | Staff | Links | Department of Biological Sciences | CSU Stanislaus

Recovery Plan for Upland Species of the San Joaquin Valley, California
Contents . Introduction . Species accounts . Recovery . Stepdown . Implementation . References . Appendix

Appendix F. Retirement of Farmland with Drainage Problems

  1. Criteria for Federal Land Retirement Program
  2. Restoration of Retired Farmland
  3. Guidelines for Land Retirement Program

Retirement of irrigated farmland is one component of the plan to manage the drainage-related problems along the center and western side of the San Joaquin Valley (San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program 1990; HR429, 1992). The State of California also has a retirement program (San Joaquin Valley Drainage Relief Act, 1992, SB 1669) directly linked to water marketing. The program is intended to be self-supporting once an initial State appropriation provides for farmland purchase. Land retirement and selling of water rights will then provide the funds to sustain the program. Both programs can contribute greatly to recovery of several listed species if operated to solve endangered species recovery and drainage problems as two principal objectives. The nature of the State program makes it most applicable to acquiring smaller, strategic parcels next to natural lands that can provide linkages between larger blocks of natural lands. It could be operated in conjunction with mitigation programs for large-area Habitat Conservation Plans such as for the Metropolitan Bakersfield Area and the Kern County Valley Floor. The Federal program is better suited to creating large blocks of retired farmland within Central Valley Project areas that will support kit foxes (the umbrella species) and populations of associated listed and candidate species and species of concern.

1. Criteria for Federal Land Retirement Program

Drainage Problems and Selenium Contamination.-- The Land Retirement Program is being implemented primarily to manage drainage-related problems, including those associated with selenium. Selenium is an naturally occurring element that is highly toxic if levels in the environment and biota become elevated. Contaminant concentrations on retired lands should be monitored to ensure that concentrations are not becoming elevated. To prevent adverse effects to listed species and species of concern in the San Joaquin Valley, the following monitoring and conditions should be met prior to management of these lands for listed species:

  1. Determine baseline groundwater conditions of lands being retired at the time of or prior to purchase. Baseline groundwater conditions should include: depth to groundwater and selenium concentration in groundwater.

  2. To ensure that biological integrity can be safely maintained on retired lands, a monitoring program should be implemented. The monitoring program should include collection of data on a seasonal basis for: soil salinity, depth to groundwater, groundwater contaminant concentrations (e.g., selenium), groundwater flow paths, contaminant concentrations (e.g., selenium and mercury) in standing water that persists more than 30 days, contaminants (e.g., selenium) in the biota, including invertebrates, small mammals, and kit foxes or coyotes (if present). Groundwater monitoring wells may be needed to assess groundwater movement. This monitoring program should identify the potential for adverse effects to sensitive species and evaluate safety of retired lands for these species. onitoring data should be compared with the following Land Retirement Program performance standards:

    1. depth to groundwater and selenium concentration in groundwater should not show an increasing trend over 5 years of monitoring;
    2. standing water that persists more than 30 days should not exceed 2 ug/L (parts per billion) selenium and 2 ng/L (parts per trillion) mercury in solution on a total recoverable, unfiltered basis;
    3. mean concentrations of selenium in invertebrates should not exceed 2.5 ug/g (parts per million) on a dry weight basis;
    4. rodent hair concentrations should not exceed 5 ug/g (parts per million) on a dry weight basis or rodent blood concentration should not exceed 0.5 mg/L (parts per million) on a wet weight basis;
    5. blood from kit foxes or coyotes should not exceed 1 mg/L (parts per million) on a wet weight basis.

    The monitoring program should be performed for a period of at least 5 years or longer as determined necessary by the USFWS. These data should be provided to the USFWSs Contaminants and Endangered Species Divisions, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, and Realty Division annually for review. Any measures identified by the USFWS necessary for remediation should be implemented including acquiring water for dilution of toxic contaminant concentrations in surface water and ground water.

  3. The Service would accept title of retired land only when it has been shown that the performance standards above have been met for 5 years (or as determined by the USFWSs Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office Contaminants Division). If the performance standards are exceeded for any parcels acquired under the Land Retirement Program, those lands should not be managed as habitat for listed species.

Endangered Species Recovery.-- Qualifying criteria for the Federal Land Retirement Program should include endangered species recovery. Currently, the primary criteria qualifying land for retirement are improving water conservation and the quality of agricultural wastewater. Endangered species recovery objectives that should be considered as second order criteria include the following:

  1. Retirement of farmland should contribute to recovery of the San Joaquin kit fox and its associated communities. Any potential contaminant issues should be addressed.
  2. Land should be retired in blocks instead of scattered parcels. This minimizes "edge" with neighboring farmland and thereby minimizes pest and other problems at the interface between cultivated and natural ground. Blocks should be as large as possible; ideally no less than about 2,023 to 2,428 hectares (5,000 to 6,000 acres). This would provide habitat for three to eight or more families of foxes and contribute to minimizing edge.
  3. Blocks ideally should be circular or square in shape. This also minimizes edge.
  4. Blocks should be positioned near or within areas with artificial or natural structures serving as potential corridors for movement of kit foxes. The course of Panoche Creek between the edge of the Valley and the natural lands in the Valleys center in Fresno and Madera Counties is one obvious potential corridor. Other potential corridors would be flood-control channels, other dry stream beds, canals, aqueducts, and drainage ditches.
  5. Blocks ideally should be connected to natural lands on the western edge of the valley by continuous undeveloped land or other natural movement corridors. This may require purchase and retirement of some lands without serious drainage problems, or substantial enhancement of kit fox habitat on farmlands through a focused safe harbor program.
  6. Blocks should contain few or no highways or major roads. Vehicles striking kit foxes are a major cause of their mortality. Large areas with few roads or with only low speed traffic minimize losses.

2. Restoration of Retired Farmland

Given sufficient time, little restoration would be needed to reestablish a natural community providing habitat for kit foxes and other target species. However, to maximize utility for recovery and minimize potential pest problems on neighboring farms, some active restoration is needed:

  1. Construction of artificial dens for kit foxes. Successful designs exist.
  2. Seeding native barley, and other plants of annual grassland and chenopod scrub communities of the San Joaquin Valley. These are readily available and some seeding will occur naturally. The main objectives would be to provide ground cover to minimize occurrence of major weeds of croplands and reduce soil erosion, and provide cover and food for small animals serving as prey for foxes and raptors.
  3. Creating areas of higher elevation to lessen sheet flooding in leveled fields.
  4. Retention and planting of additional trees at clustered sites to provide roosting and nesting habitat for raptors.

3. Guidelines for Land Retirement Program

Maximizing success of this proposed Federal retirement program (and the State program) requires developing trust and cooperation of neighboring land owners. A successful program should:

  1. Provide exemption from incidental take (take that is incidental to, and not the purpose of, the carrying out of an otherwise lawful activity) for neighbors. There is precedence for this type of program established by USFWSs Safe Harbor Program for the red-cockaded woodpecker in the Southeastern U.S. (USFWS in litt. 1995b). A similar program has been proposed for farmers in the San Joaquin Valley who enhance habitat for listed species (Scott-Graham 1994).
  2. Be implemented within an experimental environment where its effectiveness can be adequately assessed and adjustments made, as needed.

Zuni drawing of a hare

Information Contact
Bookmark and Share