Restoring Least Bell’s Vireo habitat across California’s diverse ecosystem by adjusting proven methods from the Central Valley

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Emma Havstad, Michael Rogner, Erin Hagen, Julie Rentner

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Least Bell’s Vireos declined dramatically as the river processes which create and maintain vireo habitat were degraded through land conversion and flood control projects, reducing California’s population to 300 breeding pairs concentrated in San Diego by 1986. In response, a riparian restoration program in California’s Central Valley created thousands of acres of habitat, successfully attracting active nesting. Climate, topography, and other conditions facilitate rapid, cost-effective riparian restoration in this agricultural community; however, birds must disperse long distances from their current range to reach this habitat. To facilitate population growth in existing Southern California populations and thereby drive dispersal to the species’ historic range, River Partners adapted Central Valley horticultural restoration methods to the rivers of Southern California. Regional ecological differences (water availability), socio-political differences (risk perception, labor availability), and differing landscape context (urbanization, predation pressures) were incorporated into design and implementation. We used high-efficiency drip irrigation to reduce water use, delivering sufficient water to support rapid establishment and growth of potted stock and cuttings while limiting establishment of seeded understory species compared to Central Valley techniques. Stakeholder outreach drove site design and maintenance in this highly visible restoration context, impacting costs and development of future projects to a greater extent than in other regions. Although Least Bell’s Vireo quickly dispersed to newly restored riparian vegetation and attempted breeding in Southern California, continued refinement of restoration techniques could address variation by site and rain year of robust understory establishment, threats of nest parasitism and predation, and deeper understanding of prey resources.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program