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Trial hunting program in Sierra Valley is a success

Young hunters enjoying a sunny day in February of 2018 at the Sierra Valley Preserve. Photo by Dave Valle

For the last two winters, from mid-November to the first week of February, the Feather River Land Trust has worked with a local group of waterfowl hunters to run a trial waterfowl-hunting program on the Sierra Valley Preserve.

The Sierra Valley Preserve is a 2,500-acre contiguous property in the northern part of Sierra Valley near Beckwourth that is owned and managed by the Land Trust.

Since 2003, the Land Trust has worked with conservation partners, donors, agencies, foundations and volunteers to purchase and manage the properties that make up the preserve with the goal of protecting and improving wildlife habitat, protecting wetlands and water quality, and providing public access to this beautiful and unique part of this region.

The wetlands found on the Sierra Valley Preserve provide excellent habitat, forage and breeding grounds for a variety of waterfowl. The properties that make up the preserve have been hunted, with permission from the previous landowners, by generations of people from the area.

In 2017, the Land Trust initiated a trial hunt on the preserve as part of a larger effort to understand desired public use and related land management efforts. Waterfowl hunting was limited to approximately 500 acres of the preserve with set days, staff oversight and volunteers from the Sierra Valley Waterfowlers group.

During the 2018-19 season, the Land Trust partnered with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the local Waterfowlers group for five weekends of public access hunting through the Shared Habitat Alliance for Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) program, a low-cost lottery system that was open to the public.

Five hunters from various parts of Northern California joined local hunters who volunteered as expert guides to experience the cold, ice, sunshine, wind and expansive beauty of Sierra Valley.

Dave Valle, a member of the volunteer Sierra Valley Waterfowlers group and retired Portola High School teacher, stated “a hunting experience such as this encourages a unique connection to the land, the wildlife, and encourages wildlife protection and stewardship.”

FRLT staff and the Waterfowlers group also organized a local Youth Hunt with six students ranging in ages 12 to 17 accompanied by guardians, who experienced a bitterly cold and wet hunt on a stormy Feb. 2.

Johnny Pini, age 16 of Quincy, sent a letter of gratitude to the Land Trust, stating, “although my hunt wasn’t as successful as I hoped, the fact that I was allowed to hunt on this land in Sierra Valley was very special.” He went on to say, “I appreciate that there was a limited number of hunters that went out together, not only for the safety aspect, but for waterfowl conservation as well.”

As part of this trial hunting program, FRLT is drawing on the expertise and guidance of the Land Trust’s founder Paul Hardy, a wildlife biologist, to monitor species of waterfowl and other wetland birds using the preserve before, during and after hunting. This research goes hand in hand with hunting logs that each hunter is required to keep for each day they access the property.

These data will allow FRLT to better understand what species are utilizing the wetlands during the hunting season, the behavior, numbers and habitat use of each species, and the implications of hunting on FRLT’s goals, which include protecting the habitat, wildlife and cultural connection to the lands in the headwater valleys of the Feather River Region.

These data will also be compared to a long-term data set on wildlife use that has been collected by the Land Trust and biologists from Plumas Audubon Society.

FRLT is a local nonprofit conservation organization that offers a variety of public recreation opportunities on conserved lands — from the Olsen Barn Meadow in Chester to the Sierra Valley Preserve.

For a list of public events including birding, botanizing, stargazing and more, visit www.frlt.org.

The hunting season is now closed, but for more information on the trial hunting program, contact Gabe Miller, stewardship director.

The Land Trust relies on the generous support of volunteers and partner organizations, like the Sierra Valley Waterfowlers group, to care for the lands it own and manages.

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