Can the use of agricultural land as a wildlife refuge during winter lead to mutual benefits for agriculture and wildlife?
To answer this question, the Californian rice system is used as a model. Because of environmental legislation prohibiting large-scale burning of rice straw, many rice farmers flood their fields during the winter months in order to enhance decomposition of the straw.
As the Sacramento Valley is located along the Pacific Flyway for waterfowl, large number of birds frequents the fields during winter. Preliminary data suggest that the presence of such large numbers of birds increase the rate of straw decomposition through mechanical shredding. An increase in decomposition will decrease the number of tillage operations in the spring.
Also, earlier studies indicate that the weed seed bank may be reduced when fields are winter flooded in the winter, possibly by foraging waterfowl. As winter flooded fields considerably increase habitat, mutual benefits for both farmers and waterfowl can thus be generated. A large landscape-scale study across the Sacramento Valley is underway to quantify such mutual benefits. This interdisciplinary study integrates agricultural, wildlife and economic al issues.