June 2022 - News from the Wild Side

newsletter

Birds, Bees, Beavers, and Beneficial Habitat

The longest days of the year are upon us, producing quickly grown crops–leaf lettuce matures in 30-40 days. It is also the time for the quickest generations of pest insects, and for beneficial birds to feed many of them to their young. Ash-throated Flycatchers and Western Bluebird parents may be on the second brood, stuffing the mouths of their voracious young with these pests.

In this month’s newsletter we share details from three amazing field days we hosted in June, discussing the support of beneficial birds like these and other ways farmers are working with nature to produce healthy food. We also showcase two new WFA resources: first is our newly released video which outlines the steps on how to install hedgerows, and second is our new publication on Barn Owl Nest boxes which has free plans for building a box.

We highlight results from a research project about Barn Owls and the best time to install and clean their nest boxes. In addition, we are excited to share an update on the effort to bring beavers back to the landscape in California, resources for working with USDA farm programs and a recent Oregon State University biodiversity conference.

Finally, National Pollinator Week was this month and marks the sixteenth consecutive year of bringing greater awareness to the critically important role of pollinators in the ecosystem. Make your voice heard by filling out a survey in the link below outlining California growers' preferences for on-farm pollinator conservation programs.

Enjoy this month’s News from the Wild.

WFA Field Days in Review

Hedgerows: Living Fences to the Moon and Back

Barn Owl Nest Box Resource

Install and Clean Out Barn Owl Nest Boxes in the Late Summer and Fall

Big Wins for the Bring Back the Beaver Campaign!

USDA Farm Program Information

2022 Agricultural Biodiversity on Western Farms: Links and Resources

Pollinator Habitat Program Survey

WFA Field Days in Review

After two years of showcasing farms and their practices to support biodiversity in a virtual setting, it was amazing to be back together in person out in the field! The events featured farmers, avian ecologists and conservation professionals. WFA staff discussed Western Bluebird benefits in vineyards and our soon-to-be released Bird Habitat Assessment Tool. We were excited and inspired to hear from our speakers.

Live Earth Farm’s Tom Broz shared how he integrates farming practices into an area where nature is still thriving. Other speakers covered how:

  • Non-leguminous cover crops capture nitrogen and protect groundwater;
  • Variable speed pumps and electronically controlled valves save water and money;
  • One of the best ways to prepare for climate change is to diversify the farm’s cropping system; and
  • A ten-year old hedgerow evolves to be more complex and adapted to the landscape, supporting nesting birds and other beneficial biodiversity.

Grgich Hills Vineyard’s Ivo Jeramaz shared how he keeps his soil alive conserving moisture with year-round ground cover, and supports avian pest control with his ~250 songbird boxes and ~50 Barn Owl boxes. Other speakers discussed how:

  • Round-up compromises soil health because it ties up minerals the vines need;
  • A good way to design a hedgerow is to space strong, survivor plants like Coyote Brush throughout its length to serve as a backbone, and fill in with other native plants;
  • A single Barn Owl family can remove almost 3,500 rodents each year; and
  • Because Barn Owls spend 1/3rd of their time hunting in vineyards and the rest in natural areas, conserving these wilder habitats will help retain the birds.

Ridge Vineyard’s Kyle Theroit shared how they value pest control provided by the Western Bluebirds that use their 70+ nest boxes, 90% which are occupied. Other speakers discussed:

  • Good wine starts in the vineyard, and the soil below the vines is just as important as what is above. A healthy thriving soil plays a huge role in bringing the unique flavors of place to a wine.
  • Western Bluebird parents will bring food to one nest box about 170 times per 15-hour day (equivalent to about once every 5 minutes). This amounts to 3,400 insects per box over a 20-day period that the nestlings are being fed.
  • While Barn Owls, hawks and falcons consume lots of rodents, just having them around creates a “Landscape of Fear” where pest species have to spend more time being vigilant and protecting themselves and less time damaging crops.

 

Hedgerows: Living Fences to the Moon and Back

We are excited to share the latest in WFA’s video series, Hedgerows: Living Fences to the Moon and Back. This video is packed full of useful information, covering the history and definition of hedgerows; typical goals of farmers; food safety, climate change and cost considerations; site selection and analysis; choosing native plants, visiting nurseries, and transporting plants; monitoring the planting; and the beauty of the plants themselves and the beneficial organisms that come to the farm.

Increasing habitat in agriculture with these plantings is part of WFA’s ambitious goal of inspiring 25% of US farmers to plant an average of one-mile hedgerow or windbreak, leading to 500,000 miles of living fence borders, the equivalent of the distance to the Moon and back!

 

Barn Owl Nest Box Resource

WFA is happy to release a new publication detailing how to build a Barn Owl nest box. The document was created in collaboration with Breanna Martinico of UC Davis and several co-authors. These plans are based on their research and experience working with nesting Barn Owls on farms in California. Two improvements over many nest box plans are that these provide adequate space to allow nestlings to exercise their wings as they prepare for flight, and they reduce impacts of heat during hot temperatures. With these plans comes a complete materials list and instructions for building a box.

 

Install and Clean Out Barn Owl Nest Boxes in the Late Summer and Fall

A new paper about Barn Owl Nest boxes by several of the above co-authors describes how Barn Owls are early nesters. After reviewing more than 22,000 nestling banding records over almost 100 years, along with other data, we now know that Barn Owls’ median egg laying date in California is February 20th. This means some Owls are laying even earlier, so installing and maintaining boxes in late summer and fall (Sep–Nov) would be most effective. Birds typically survey a nest site long before they decide on using it, and once the box has been used, it needs to be cleaned out on a yearly basis. Doing this work in late summer/fall will result in the most nest occupancy and the least nest disturbance.

Read More

 

Big Wins for the Bring Back the Beaver Campaign!

With advocacy led by Occidental Arts & Ecology Center’s (OAEC) WATER (Watershed Advocacy Training Education & Research) Institute, Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposal to launch a new Beaver Restoration Program at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will be enacted on June 30th. The Department will hire the professional scientific staff needed to “truly support and manage this native keystone species through the implementation of nature-based solutions.”

“We couldn’t be more thrilled that this day is finally here,” said the WATER Institute’s Kate Lundquist, who hailed the legislature’s passage of AB/SB 154 earlier this month. After decades of missing out on opportunities that beavers provide to create healthier ecosystems, we agree that ‘the Department must take a proactive leap towards bringing beavers back onto the landscape through a concerted effort to combine prioritized restoration projects, partnerships with local, federal, and state agencies and tribes, and updated policies and practices that support beaver management and conservation throughout the State.’”

“Governor Newsom and the legislature have leaned in on beavers and are ushering in a new era of restoration in California that creates the opportunity for nature’s engineer to thrive again,” said Brock Dolman, OAEC co-founder and WATER Institute co-director. “Working in partnership with the state, we see so many opportunities for beavers to create beneficial habitat, help fight drought, wildfire, and climate change, increase abundance of ecologically and significant plants and animals, and improve water quality and flow. We can’t wait to pitch in and assist the Department in any way we can.”

According to the Governor’s proposal, with $1.67 million in FY 2022-23 and $1.44 million FY 2023-24 and ongoing, five new environmental scientists will work to “revise beaver policies and guidelines in development of a comprehensive beaver management plan.” This team “will develop an integrated and proactive approach to mitigate human-beaver conflict specific to reported damage due to known beaver activity. The team will coordinate with other agencies and departments to prioritize beaver restoration projects.”

 

USDA Farm Program Information

Our friends over at the Center for Rural Affairs have published some great resources for navigating the process of using USDA's working lands conservation programs.

  • A series of fact sheets in English and Spanish cover the basics of conservation programs.
  • For those who would rather watch videos, a YouTube playlist offers the same series.

Also, USDA has opened the application process for two programs that are now available to producers who want to sign up for cost share assistance:

 

2022 Agricultural Biodiversity on Western Farms: Links and Resources

In May, Oregon State University hosted an Agricultural Biodiversity on Western Farms conference. The event featured practices to develop habitats that conserve agricultural biodiversity and their benefits for farmers, conservationists, and other agricultural professionals.

Featured Speakers: Peter Kenagy of Kenagy Family Farm in the Willamette Valley, Brad Bailie of Lenwood Farm in the Columbia Basin, Rachael Long of University of CA Cooperative Extension, Rex Dufour of National Center for Appropriate Technology, Gail Redberg of the Tribal Native Nursery of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and more.

OSU has shared the recordings and resources for those who missed attending the conference.

See the links and resources here.

 

Pollinator Habitat Program Survey

The Pollinator Partnership — a non-profit 501 c3 dedicated to promoting the health of pollinators through conservation, education, and research — is conducting a survey to learn about California growers' preferences for on-farm conservation programs.

The voluntary survey, under contract for the USDA, is open to current owners and/or managers of farmlands in California, and should take about 10 minutes to complete.

Participants can take part in the survey regardless of past participation in a USDA conservation program. Responses will not identify participants individually; results will be aggregated and anonymized when presented. All participants who complete the survey will be included in a raffle.

Click on this link to participate in the survey.

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