(Posted 5/8/18) An exciting new conservation program is available in the Rainwater Basin region to protect wildlife habitat while allowing landowners to crop the site when conditions permit. The program is called the Agricultural Land Easement (ALE), a permanent non-development easement (i.e., no building structures) held by the local Natural Resources District. After enrollment, the playa wetland hydrology is restored and the landowner can keep cropping the entire site when the wetland is dry enough to do so. Alternatively, the landowner can choose to forego cropping and seed the site to native plants for grazing land. The landowner is paid for the easement based on a land appraisal. All restoration costs are paid for by Rainwater Basin Joint Venture (RWBJV) partners.
Once the site is enrolled in ALE, the RWBJV will provide 85% cost-share to upgrade the pivot on the property to variable rate irrigation (VRI). This precision agriculture technology allows each pivot nozzle to be independently controlled. The RWBJV will also provide 85% cost-share for soil moisture probes and soil mapping which, when combined with VRI, maximizes water use efficiency and cost savings. Additionally, 85% cost-share will be provided to upgrade the pivot tires to a flotation option, making crossing the wetland easier.
Wetland sites enrolled in ALE have their niche in the regional habitat landscape. When cropped wetlands pond water in fall and spring, they provide good shorebird habitat, which isn’t always common on other conservation lands. For the approximately 500,000 shorebirds migrating through the Rainwater Basin region annually, the open, shallow water provided by cropped wetlands is critical feeding habitat.