Wildlife-friendly Pond Program
There are approximately 800 stock ponds in Alameda County. Most of these were installed thirty to sixty years ago, and were designed with a twenty-year lifespan. Many are now approaching failure due to erosion or siltation. Many ranchers no longer depend on stock ponds for livestock water – water tanks and troughs have become the method of choice. But many ranchers still want to maintain their ponds for their beauty and the wildlife they attract, as backup water, and as a part of their families' histories on their lands.
The survival and recovery of two California amphibians increasingly depends on these livestock ponds and the efforts of local cattle ranchers. The California red-legged frog and California tiger salamander occur primarily on rangelands, where the primary management activity is cattle grazing. Both species are federally listed as threatened in our county. Much of these species' habitat has been altered or lost to development and cropland. Natural breeding habitat (slow-moving creeks and vernal pools) in particular has been affected by these uses. Remaining habitat occurs mostly on ranches and grazed public lands. Stock ponds, which can provide high-quality aquatic habitat for both species, have become a vital feature on the landscape as natural habitat is lost.
There are several hurdles that can stand in the way of stock pond repairs. Repair projects generally require five to six environmental permits. The permitting process can be a lengthy, relatively expensive, and confusing process for landowners, and puts the ranch under the magnifying glass of regulatory agencies. Many ranchers also fear that they could face new Endangered Species Act restrictions if they voluntarily improve habitat for endangered species. Ranchers are eligible for 50% cost-share (reimbursement of project costs) from the NRCS through EQIP. But with pond repair costs ranging from ten to forty thousand dollars or higher, and with cheaper watering alternatives available, EQIP is not enough to make these projects affordable or economically viable.
To support ranchers who want to repair, restore, and manage stock ponds and uplands for habitat, we are offering several incentives:
- 90% cost share that leverages funds from NRCS, USFWS, and the California Coastal Conservancy
- Programmatic environmental permitting through our Permit Coordination Program
- Safe Harbor Agreements
- Facilitation of conservation and mitigation easement opportunities through our Conservation Mitigation Program
- Leveraging EQIP cost share programs
The program provides a much-needed model for using Farm Bill funds to assist species recovery. NRCS technical specifications for pond repair were customized to meet the habitat requirements of the two amphibians, with assistance from several species experts. We are working to develop scientifically rigorous, practical guidelines for grazing management to benefit these species.
The program demonstrates how ranchers and rare species can benefit each other, how public agencies can help, and the technical, economic and regulatory tools needed to do so. Our program merges the goals of the Farm Bill and Endangered Species Act, and is serving as a pilot program for the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition.
We thank our project partners, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Defense Fund, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the California Coastal Conservancy, for their support of this unique program.
For more information on this program please contact Jackie Charbonneau at (925) 371-0154 ext. 114.
Wildlife-friendly Ponds Program Fact Sheet (pdf)
Case Study - Frog Farming in Alameda County: Overcoming Barriers, Creating Opportunities (pdf)
Pond Program highlighted in the Fish and Widlife Services Endangered Species Bulletin
See the article (pages 30 and 31) at http://www.fws.gov/endangered/news/pdf/bulletin_spring2008.pdf