The Fall and Rise of the Wetlands of California's Great Central Valley

The Fall and Rise of the Wetlands of California's Great Central Valley

The Fall and Rise of the Wetlands of California's Great Central Valley

The Fall and Rise of the Wetlands of California's Great Central Valley

Synopsis

This is the first comprehensive environmental history of California's Great Central Valley, where extensive freshwater and tidal wetlands once provided critical habitat for tens of millions of migratory waterfowl. Weaving together ecology, grassroots politics, and public policy, Philip Garone tells how California's wetlands were nearly obliterated by vast irrigation and reclamation projects, but have been brought back from the brink of total destruction by the organized efforts of duck hunters, whistle-blowing scientists, and a broad coalition of conservationists. Garone examines the many demands that have been made on the Valley's natural resources, especially by large-scale agriculture, and traces the unforeseen ecological consequences of our unrestrained manipulation of nature. He also investigates changing public and scientific attitudes that are now ushering in an era of unprecedented protection for wildlife and wetlands in California and the nation.

Excerpt

Every autumn and early winter, millions of aquatic birds—ducks, geese, swans, and shorebirds—descend upon the Great Central Valley of California. Dozens of species of long-distance travelers return to their ancestral wintering grounds to feed and rest in the freshwater marshes, shallow lakes, and river systems of California’s heartland. Breeding, for the most part, in the northern wetlands of Alaska and western Canada, these birds have sought seasonal refuge for at least the past ten thousand centuries in the relative warmth of the Central Valley wetlands— California’s most important contribution to the Pacific Flyway, the westernmost of four North American migratory bird corridors, which stretch from the Arctic to Mexico and beyond.

Today’s migrating waterbirds have been arriving in a valley far different from the one known by their forebears. From the time of California statehood in 1850, the wetlands of the Central Valley experienced nearly a century of accelerating losses as they were drained—or “reclaimed”—usually for conversion to agricultural uses. This trend began to change during the middle third of the twentieth century, when efforts to protect and restore wetlands in the Central Valley slowly gained momentum, a momentum that has been carried to the present day. This book explains why that change took place, and why it is important to an understanding of crucial aspects of U.S. conservation history. As the title suggests, at its heart this book is not a declension story, a “classic narrative of regret” (to borrow a phrase from one historian of the Central Valley) about a fall from a pristine past to an environmentally degraded present. Rather, although the sheer volume of wetland losses has been enormous, this book suggests reasons for a cautious . . .

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