Conservation group aids Petaluma bird life

  • Jeff McCreary, the Director of Conservation Programs for the western region of Ducks Unlimited, at Shollenberger Park on Thursday, March 20, 2014 in Petaluma, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Standing amid the marshes of Petaluma's Shollenberger Park, Jeff McCreary points out the Northern shoveler ducks, the gadwalls, the cinnamon teals and the Canada geese.

And he's confident that his organization, Ducks Unlimited, has had a positive influence on the waterfowl's apparently contented existence in the wetlands, tucked between the Petaluma River and office parks.

McCreary, a Penngrove native who grew up in and around Petaluma, is the director of conservation programs for the nonprofit group that has helped conserve almost 5 million acres of land in the United States for waterfowl habitat.

He toured the park trails this week, examining the results of a recent Ducks Unlimited project to help construct two water control structures in the popular hiking and birding area. Also on his mind was California's ongoing drought and World Water Day, marked Saturday, March 22 annually around the globe.

This year's focus is on water and its link to energy and energy production. But in California and the North Bay, a lack of water is the concern.

"Water in the West is everything," he said. "This year epitomizes the record drought. What we're concerned about from a conservation standpoint is, what does that mean to waterfowl?"

While Shollenberger Park appears healthy and well-populated with various birds and other wildlife species, McCreary said the drought may become more evident in the next year by virtue of water shortages in the Central Valley.

There, wetlands may take a back seat to the water needs of farmers. That could create dryer habitats, forcing waterfowl to migrate further north in search of wetlands like Shollenberger.

The North Bay is an important stopover for migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway. In the past 200 years, many wetlands, particularly along San Pablo Bay, have been diked, drained and converted to fields or salt ponds.

Last year, Ducks Unlimited, which headquartered in Memphis, and the Sonoma Land Trust announced a large grant to help fund the Sears Point project, which will create habitat for canvasbacks and mallards as well as 22 fish species, including Chinook salmon.

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