ABOUT US

Mission Statement

Enhance the ecological value of California rice fields to help sustain the millions of waterbirds and other wildlife in the Pacific Flyway for future generations.

Advancing the quality of Sacramento Waterbird habitats

The California Ricelands Waterbird Foundation (“Foundation”) is a partnership between rice farmers and waterbird conservation groups for the long-term preservation of habitat for waterbirds in California’s Sacramento Valley.

This close relationship between the Foundation and the California Rice Commission brings a significant number of California rice growers to the table who are willing to alter their farming practices for the benefit of waterbirds. In addition, cooperative contributions from many waterbird conservation partners bring forward key technical expertise which ensures that waterbird habitat enhancement projects will be successfully deployed.

Through over a decade of work to develop and refine beneficial waterbird practices, the Foundation now has a working model for receiving private and public financial contributions and efficiently putting these dollars right onto the ground in real, quantifiable waterbird conservation programs.

scientists walking through rice field

What We Do

The Foundation is uniquely positioned

The Foundation is uniquely positioned, through its direct relationships with California rice growers and its partnerships with highly-respected waterbird conservation groups, to cost-effectively deploy our donors’ tax-deductible contributions directly into conservation efforts on the ground. We execute this with a long-standing history of cooperatively bringing rice growers and wildlife conservation experts together with a collective goal of implementing waterbird conservation objectives on private lands.

The Result

Approximately 80% percent of all donors’ cash contributions go directly into habitat projects on the ground.

With a suite of wildlife conservation strategies born out of decades of experience working alongside the Natural Resources Conservation Service and our many other science-based conservation partners the Foundation is able to deliver valuable habitat for birds and other wildlife. Our strategic activities include:

  • Directly manage contracts with the growers and landowners to perform the conservation practices.
  • Utilize annual contracts that allow us to prioritize projects based upon changing environmental conditions and concerns.
  • Use current science-based data to identify the most critical areas and time periods to implement projects.
  • Execute compliance monitoring to ensure the habitat practices are prepared and managed correctly.
  • Monitor bird use to assess efficacy of practices and inform adaptive improvements.
  • Communicate, through many social media outlets about the positive outcomes from our donors’ contributions to wildlife.

WORKING RICELAND HABITATS

An Important wetland surrogate for birds

California’s "working" ricelands have become important surrogate wetland habitats for many wildlife species. These working lands are doing double-duty by producing the highest yielding rice in the world as well as an essential waterbird habitat. In fact, over 200 species are known to use California ricelands. With the extensive loss of about 95 percent of the native wetland habitats in the Central Valley, riceland habitats have become essential to the management of certain wildlife, such as waterfowl and shorebirds. Moreover, many special-status species have successfully adapted to cultivated ricelands. For some wetland-dependent species, ricelands provide essential wetland-like habitat that has contributed to the stability of populations and can be attributed to population increases for a number of species.

Wildlife use of cultivated ricelands

With the significant loss of wetlands in the Central Valley, wildlife has become increasingly dependent on suitable agricultural lands for food and cover. Certain types of agriculture—primarily rice cultivation— function in a way that is similar to native habitats and help to sustain many waterbird populations. Specifically, these Surrogate wetland habitats, provided by ricelands, serve as essential breeding and wintering habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, and other wildlife.

In addition to providing surrogate wetland habitat, rice fields also provide a high-value food source in the form of 75,000 tons of waste grain remaining on the ground following the annual rice harvest in the Central Valley. It is this waste rice grain, as well as other valuable food in rice fields, that enables wintering waterfowl in the Sacramento Valley to gather nearly 60 percent of their nourishment from rice fields.

Percentage of food resources for Waterfowl provided in the Central Valley

Rice fields provide nearly 60 percent of all the food resources available to duck and geese in the Central Valley, with wetlands and harvested corn fields providing the rest.

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RICE FIELDS

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WETLANDS

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OTHER

The Board

Paul Butner

PAUL BUTTNER

Chairman & Executive Director

Paul Buttner has served as Manager of Environmental Affairs at the California Rice Commission since 2001 leading wildlife conservation. He has nearly 30 years of environmental resources management and public policy experience. He previously worked at Resource Management International and Cargill. Mr. Buttner holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of California, Berkeley.

Paul Buttner has served as Manager of Environmental Affairs at the California Rice Commission since 2001 leading wildlife conservation. He has nearly 30 years of environmental resources management and public policy experience. He previously worked at Resource Management International and Cargill. Mr. Buttner holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of California, Berkeley.

mike

MIKE DEWIT

Director

Mike DeWit is a second generation California rice farmer with a strong history of implementing innovative conservation practices for waterbirds including continuous enrollment in the Waterbird Habitat Enhancement and BirdReturns Programs. He has served on the California Rice Commission since 2001 including two committees that focus on rice waterbird conservation programs. Mr. DeWit graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in Crop Science.

Mike DeWit is a second-generation California rice farmer with a strong history of implementing innovative conservation practices for waterbirds including continuous enrollment in the Waterbird Habitat Enhancement and BirdReturns Programs. He has served on the California Rice Commission since 2001 including two committees that focus on rice waterbird conservation programs. Mr. DeWit graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in Crop Science.

hertel-headshot2Artboard 1

MEGHAN HERTEL

Director

Meghan Hertel joined Land Life as North American Regional Director in March 2022. Land Life is a technology-driven, nature restoration company focused on helping restore the 2 billion hectares of degraded land worldwide. Prior to that she spent 11 years with Audubon California holding several positions including Director of Land and Water Conservation where she led statewide conservation programs with a focus on inland water and working lands strategies including scaling bird-friendly management practices and habitat restoration on farms and ranches. She holds a Master’s in Environmental Science and Policy from Clark University, is a 2018 American Leadership Forum Fellow, a 2009 Water Education Foundation, William R. Gianelli Water Leader, and a 2006 Albert Schweitzer Fellow. She also received Sacramento’s 40 under 40 Award in 2019. 

Meghan Hertel joined Land Life as North American Regional Director in March 2022. Land Life is a technology-driven, nature restoration company focused on helping restore the 2 billion hectares of degraded land worldwide. Prior to that she spent 11 years with Audubon California holding several positions including Director of Land and Water Conservation where she led statewide conservation programs with a focus on inland water and working lands strategies including scaling bird-friendly management practices and habitat restoration on farms and ranches. She holds a Master’s in Environmental Science and Policy from Clark University, is a 2018 American Leadership Forum Fellow, a 2009 Water Education Foundation, William R. Gianelli Water Leader, and a 2006 Albert Schweitzer Fellow. She also received Sacramento’s 40 under 40 Award in 2019. 

Mark Biddlecomb

MARK BIDDLECOMB

Director

Mark Biddlecomb, retired as the Director of Operations for the Western Region for Ducks Unlimited, Inc. (DU) November of 2020 after more than 25 years with the organization. Initially, Mark restored wetlands and associated upland habitat throughout the Intermountain West then took over responsibility for program delivery in four western states.

Mark became the Director of Operations in 2010 and has focused his conservation leadership on stewarding the development of all conservation programs in the nine states of DU’s Western Region: California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska. Prior to joining DU, Mark was a biologist with the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada. He holds a B.S. in Wildlife Management from Utah State University and a M.S. in Wildlife Management from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Mark is now working as a consultant to help expand DU’s influence in the Ecosystem Services arena. Working with farmers, ranchers and corporations to become more sustainable while benefiting wildlife is something Mark has long believed is of utmost importance for people and wildlife alike. Serving on the board of the California Ricelands Waterbird Foundation aligns perfectly with this ideal.

Mark Biddlecomb, currently the Director of Operations for the Western Region for Ducks Unlimited, Inc. (DU), has been with DU for more than 20 years. Initially, Mark restored wetlands and associated upland habitat throughout the Intermountain West then took over responsibility for program delivery in four western states.

Mark became the Director of Operations in 2010 and has focused his conservation leadership on stewarding the development of all conservation programs in the nine states of DU’s Western Region: California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska. Prior to joining DU, Mark was a biologist with the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada. He holds a B.S. in Wildlife Management from Utah State University and a M.S. in Wildlife Management from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Josh Sheppard

JOSH SHEPPARD

Secretary/Treasurer

Josh Sheppard is a fourth generation family farmer of 3,000 rice acres. He has served on the California Rice Commission Board of Directors since 1998 as well as the two major committees that focus on rice waterbird conservation programs. He was elected to serve as Chair the Industry Affairs Committee in 2014 and is a graduate of the USA Rice Leadership Class of 2009. Josh is active on USA Rice Conservation and Regulatory Affairs Committees and is the current Vice Chairman of the USA Rice Council. He is a strong proponent of working lands conservation program and has participated in the Conservation Stewardship, Waterbird Habitat and BirdReturns Programs. Mr. Sheppard graduated from Cal Poly in 1997 with degrees in Agribusiness and water science.

Josh Sheppard is a fourth generation family farmer of 3,000 rice acres. He has served on the California Rice Commission Board of Directors since 1998 as well as the two major committees that focus on rice waterbird conservation programs. He was elected to serve as Chair the Industry Affairs Committee in 2014 and is a graduate of the USA Rice Leadership Class of 2009. Josh is active on USA Rice Conservation and Regulatory Affairs Committees and is the current Vice Chairman of the USA Rice Council. He is a strong proponent of working lands conservation program and has participated in the Conservation Stewardship, Waterbird Habitat and BirdReturns Programs. Mr. Sheppard graduated from Cal Poly in 1997 with degrees in Agribusiness and water science.

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