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The Nature Conservancy Will Vigorously Protect Staten Island Habitat for Sandhill Cranes

Preserving migratory bird habitat in the Delta


Sacramento, California | August 15, 2013

The Nature Conservancy announced today its intent to preserve migratory bird habitat in the Delta in light of the California Department of Water Resources’ (DWR) proposed location for water export tunnels below Staten Island, which is owned by the Conservancy. In the updated Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), the proposed tunnels would impact vitally important habitat for wintering sandhill cranes. These birds are unusually site-faithful, often using the same location to winter, year after year. Fifteen percent of the greater sandhill cranes in the Central Valley winter on Staten Island.

“Because of Staten Island’s unique habitat values, it is with serious concern that we contemplate the Department of Water Resources’ proposed use of the island as the location of its water-export tunnels,” said Wendy Pulling, director of conservation programs at The Nature Conservancy in California. “Construction and operation of the tunnels could have significant negative impacts on crane habitat. Once a historic wintering site is lost, there is no guarantee that, if restored, the cranes will come back. Given that habitat is severely limited in the Central Valley, there are few places for these majestic birds to go.”

The Nature Conservancy acquired Staten Island in 2001 in order to protect the crane habitat provided by wildlife-friendly farming. The Nature Conservancy’s acquisition of Staten Island was made possible by $30 million in grant awards from public funds for conservation purposes. As a requirement of the grant funds, the Conservancy is required under the terms of a conservation easement to protect wildlife-friendly agriculture. The Department of Water Resources owns the easement. While the Conservancy will not voluntarily agree to the Department of Water Resources’ proposal to locate its tunnels under Staten Island, it recognizes that DWR, as a state agency, has the legal authority to condemn the property under California’s eminent domain laws.

“We will treat this plan as we would any other attempt by a public agency to use Conservancy land for construction—we will vigorously pursue all options available in order to ensure that the sandhill cranes are not harmed and that the Department of Water Resources lives up to all its legal obligations to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts at Staten Island,” Pulling said.

The Nature Conservancy has been engaged in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process in order to advance habitat conditions for migratory birds and other wildlife in the Delta. However, the Conservancy has not taken a position on the BDCP and cannot take a position until it is released.

“Regardless of where the Department of Water Resources ends up siting its proposed tunnels, The Nature Conservancy will engage vigorously in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process to ensure that any environmental impacts associated with the construction and operation of the tunnels are avoided, minimized and mitigated,” Pulling said.


The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org

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