Environmental NGOs match migratory birds with temporary wetlands

Global Business

Matching demand with excess supply – love it or hate it, that’s what the sharing economy with companies like Airbnb and Uber, are all about. Now, environmentalists are taking a page from that playbook and applying it to wildlife conservation.

CGTN’s Mark Niu visited a pop-up wetland.  

Through crowdsourced data from millions of bird watchers and satellite images from NASA, the Nature Conservancy is using the latest tech to try to match migratory birds with water.

“Some can fly a thousand miles nonstop getting from point A to point B. When they land they need to have conditions that are suitable for them. To rest and refuel, and to not have enough habitat in a large stretch like we have in Central California is a real problem,” Greg Golet, an Applied Ecologist at NGO Nature Conservancy said.

California has lost 90 percent of its wetlands over the years, contributing to a decline in shorebird populations. But Dunlin birds are fortunate to be resting on a pop-up wetland.

The NGO Nature Conservancy is paying rice farmers like Michael Bosworth to flood their rice fields and create a temporary place to stay.

“Yeah, so it will cover your cost and then also cover the risk you are taking. So yeah there’s another income stream into the farming operation,” Operations Manager at Rue and Forsman Ranch, Michael Bosworth said.

After four to six weeks and tens of thousands of birds having visiting the wetland, farmers have to drain the field which takes about 2 to 3 days. Taking a risk, because now he has to plant his rice crop several weeks late. That’s why Nature Conservancy actually holds what it calls a reverse auction for farmers.

“The conservation organization is the buyer. We want to source habitat from multiple sellers and so if they want us to buy their habitat, they compete with others to drive the cost down. And our goal is to get the highest quality habitat for the use of our scarce conservation dollars.” said Mark Reynolds, Lead Scientist at the Nature Conservancy. 

Reynolds said these reverse auctions have reduced habitat costs by 20 PERCENT. In three years’ time, they’ve taken 500 bids leading to about 22,000 hectares of pop-up wetlands.

“We’re always trying to meet the needs of nature and people. And so very often that’s going to mean sharing land resources, sharing water resources, finding ways to meet multiple needs with the same drops of water and the same parcels of land,” Nature Conservancy Project Director, Paul Spraycar said.

The Nature Conservancy is also using this same Airbnb-style concept to pay farmers to create temporary flooded environments for Sandhill Cranes. “Rent, don’t buy” now applies to more than just people, including all visitors that just need a place to stay for a while.