Grassland Resource Conservation District

The Grassland Resource Conservation District contains approximately 75,000 acres and is composed of privately-owned hunting clubs and other privately-owned wetland areas, as well as all or portions of several state wildlife areas (such as Volta WA, Los Banos WA, Mud Slough Unit, Gadwall Unit, and Salt Slough Unit) and federal wildlife refuges (such as Kesterson NWR, San Luis NWR, Freitas Unit, and Blue Goose Unit). The area is the largest contiguous block of wetlands remaining in California’s Central Valley and is a major wintering ground for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds of the Pacific Flyway. Up to 30 percent of the Central Valley’s wintering population of ducks use this area, which is located in the San Joaquin Valley in Merced County. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) ranks the habitat provided by the GRCD as the most important complex of wetlands in the San Joaquin Valley. The wetlands of the GRCD are a component of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and are internationally recognized for their importance to shorebirds (Bureau of Reclamation,1992).

Lands within the GRCD are primarily managed for waterfowl habitat. The Grassland Water District (GWD) has a Water Management Plan, but no overall habitat management plan exists for the GRCD because of the large number of individual property owners. The management objectives of the GRCD include an active program to encourage natural food plant production (such as swamp timothy, smartweed, and wildlife millet) and habitat protection. Land uses include seasonally flooded wetlands, moist soil impoundments, permanent wetland, irrigated pasture, and croplands.

The GRCD contains most of the 51,530 acre GWD. The GWD is a legal entity that was established under section 34000 of the California Water Code to receive and distribute CVP water. The GWD delivers CVP water to the wetland areas within its boundaries. The GWD contains approximately 165 separate ownerships, most of which are duck clubs. Perpetual easements have been purchased by the USFWS to help preserve wetland-dependent migratory bird habitat on approximately 31,000 acres serviced by the GWD. These easements authorize the USFWS to restrict land uses that would diminish wetland habitat values.