Rethinking Reclamation: How an Alliance of Duck Hunters and Cattle Ranchers Brought Wetland Conservation to California’s Central Valley Project
Between the 1780s and the 1980s, the United States, exclusive of Alaska and Hawaii, lost more than half of its original inheritance of over 220 million acres of wetlands.1 Although denitions of wetlands vary, they are distinguished by three main components: the presence of water, soil conditions that o en dier from adjacent uplands, and the presence of vegetation adapted to wet conditions.2 In addition to providing habitat for migratory waterfowl and a wide variety of other wetland-dependent animals and plants, wetlands provide immense ecological benets, including the recharge of aquifers, the absorption and storage of oodwaters, and the improvement of water quality. Most of the wetlands lost in the United States were “reclaimed,” drained and converted to agricultural use. In the seventeen western states, including California, much of this transformation has been orchestrated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, an agency created within the U.S. Department of the Interior by the Reclamation Act of 1902.3 Operating under the mandate of the Reclamation Act, which was intended to open up the West for agricultural settlement, the Bureau has constructed reclamation projects that include dams, reservoirs, power plants, and irrigation canals, and that have brought
millions of acres into cultivation, but o en at considerable ecological cost. Because of their environmental consequences, many of these projects wereand remain-controversial.