From its dam at Lake Shasta, all the way down to its confluence into the California Delta near the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, the Sacramento River contains a mostly channelized river system that was diked many decades ago to provide for water conveyance, agricultural irrigation, and flood control. The monstrous levees that corral the river corridor, historically butted up right up to the river channel, leaving little natural floodplain and not a lot of riparian habitat for wildlife. However, in most recent decades, state and federal agencies have begun to pull those levees further back from the river channel, and restore the riparian forests and grasslands that once naturally surrounded its banks. The Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge is one of those agencies reverting this channelized system back to its natural roots (pun intended), and began the restoration of the Sul Norte unit from a mildly productive prune orchard in the early 1990’s into the beautiful riparian habitat that it exudes today.
In 2008 the NWTF partnered with The Nature Conservancy and funds from the California Duck Stamp to convert 78 acres of the unit back into native grasses, and in 2015 the NWTF again granted fundraising dollars to add an additional 9 acres of native grasses. Then in 2016, the NWTF was successful with an upland game bird grant, which would help complete the remaining 34 acres of grasslands into native grasses and wildflowers on the Sul Norte Unit.
Well unfortunately, due to the severe flooding in the winter of 2016/17, the refuge had to start from scratch on field prep, and the project got delayed. But in mid December 2018, soil conditions were perfect, and the refuge jumped on the opportunity to put the seed in the ground.
Healthy grasslands are vital for the recruitment of many upland game bird species, including wild turkeys, pheasants, and California quail. Grasslands not only provide great habitat for insects (which are a crucial food source for growing wild turkey poults), but are also important escape cover for upland birds to hide from predators. We can only hope that this planting will result in the beneficial habitat that we’ve envisioned for this unit of the refuge.