WEST SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – The future of millions of waterfowl that visit the region each fall could be up in the air if dry conditions continue.
Fourth-generation rice farmer Brian McKenzie farms about 4,000 acres and his fields are filled with wildlife.
"There's all kinds of shorebirds in the spring: nesting ducks, nesting avocet, cranes, herons, hawks," he said.
This year's drought has decreased the number of birds and the number of acres farmed.
"We planted about 20 percent less this year which is about 100,000 acres below a normal crop," Jim Morris with the California Rice Commission said.
And that has many worried about what will happen to what is known as the Pacific flyway this fall.
"Rice fields of the Sacramento Valley provide a home to nearly 230 wildlife species, including 60 percent of the fall and winter diet for the 7-10 million ducks and geese that spend their time in our area," Morris said.
"We come in and harvest the rice and we're left over with all this material," McKenzie said. "And the ducks and geese feed through it and churn it up and there's all kinds of bugs in it and food for them."
Farmers expect to flood only a quarter of the fields this fall. The less water, the more the birds will concentrate potentially spreading disease.
"There can be things like avian botulism and different toxins and bacteria," said Christie Berger.
Berger works with Gold Country Wildlife Rescue, which took in 200 ducks during an outbreak of avian botulism two years ago.
"When birds are that sick we have to tube feed them, medicate them, make little donuts for them to sit in because they can't hold themselves up," she said.
Industry leaders hope some rain will keep birds coming. The rice commission, agricultural groups, water groups and conservation groups are asking the state legislature for $10 million to offset groundwater pumping costs to provide more habitat for the birds
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