Willow Flycatcher Willow Flycatcher
Photo Credit: Tom Grey

Our History

Early History of the Central Valley Habitat Joint Venture

The recollections of Dave Paullin, the first full-time CVHJV Coordinator

The North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) was signed between the United States and Canada in 1986. I was working for the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Oregon at the time, and word was spreading through the refuge system about this plan, so you knew something noteworthy was going on. At any given time though, there are many plans in government, and there was no indication that this was going to be the big deal it eventually became. I had an awareness of the Plan , but it had no direct implications for me as a refuge biologist in Oregon.

Landing the Job

In 1989, I got a call from Larry DeBates, Assistant Regional Director for Refuges and Wildlife in Portland, Oregon. When he called, I thought ‘Oh my God, I'm in trouble.' Fortunately, that wasn't the reason for his call. He said there was a job coming up in Sacramento and encouraged me to apply. The position was something called a "Joint Venture Coordinator" whatever that was. I was born and raised in Sacramento and I had no desire to return..

My "mistake" was asking Larry to describe the job and program to me. It sounded pretty good, but I thought no job offer could be that good. So I made some phone calls, did some research, and my mind was changed – I applied. Eventually I was selected.

I talked to Gary Kramer, who was interested in, (and was ultimately chosen for) the Refuge Manager position at the Sacramento NWR. He'd been working at the Salton Sea NWR, and for the Central Valley Habitat Joint Venture (CVHJV) part time. Technically, Gary was the first CVHJV Coordinator, a position he held part time for about a year. When he left, I took over the position as the first full time JV Coordinator.

Creating a Management Board

In the early stages a very important piece of the puzzle was the political context. The overarching theme at the time was that ‘government can't do it all'. ‘Less government is better' was based on then-President Ronald Reagan's philosophy that the private sector was more capable of delivering government programs than the government was.

Dan Chapin, Director of Government Affairs at California Waterfowl Association (CWA), was the penultimate Republican. He pushed the idea that private sector involvement was an advantage, and that "privatization is good." He believed it, and he was extremely influential. He was masterful at moving an organization in the direction he wanted it to go. This was certainly true of his involvement in the CVHJV.

When I showed up it had already been decided that the CVHJV Management Board was going to be made up exclusively of private sector non-profit groups; no government representatives could vote. The two agencies (U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the California Department of Fish and Game) would be ex officio. Dan said, "The private sector is going to drive the train." I was a bit uncomfortable with this situation, but it was a done deal by the time I got to Sacramento in June of l989. This was an interesting distinction between the CVHJV and all of the other joint ventures at that time. Other coordinators were shocked at the arrangement. In the other JVs, the Service certainly had a vote and in many cases was the "lead" agency. Such was not the case in California.

Pete Bontadelli was a key force behind the original success of the CVHJV as well. He was the Director of the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and trained as a lawyer. In that role he was able to provide good support and direction. I watched Pete in action at the very first meeting of the NAWCA Council in Washington DC at the Secretary of Interior's conference room. The program was brand new and everyone was vying for grant money. Pete blew the group away with his presentation on the Llano Seco Ranch project and his request for $3 million dollars. The project got the money. After that meeting the NAWCA Council passed a resolution capping the grants at $1M. Much of the momentum to cap the grants came from the angst generated when Pete blew into town and walked away with the lion's share of the money. In those days Pete could sell ice cubes to Eskimos.

The success of the CVHJV was in large part due to the balance within the organization created by the founding organizations. Ducks Unlimited (DU) was national and international in its scope, while CWA was state-based. Both did very similar work but on different scales. The National Audubon Society, with its emphasis on birds balanced Defenders of Wildlife, which had a broader wildlife conservation mission. Audubon, under Glen Olson's leadership, was not "anti-hunting" whereas the Defenders of Wildlife was a bit more inclined to take a protectionist position on many issues. At the same time the DFG provided balance to the Service. The private sector partners brought lobbying skills to the table. The agencies brought the money. The chemistry between these different groups worked really well.

Creating the Plan

When I came on board there was a draft CVHJV Implementation Plan (1990 Plan) already written, with groups working on various aspects of it. Because the joint venture concept of private/public conservation partnerships was new, there was no one to call for guidance. While it presented some challenges, it also was the most fun – figuring things out as we went along. My job became general editor; refining the maps, proofing the text and evaluating the information.

The Service's 1978 Concept Plan for Waterfowl Wintering Habitat Preservation looked at the "most important waterfowl resource areas", with the Central Valley being identified as a top priority. This document pre-dated the NAWMP and developed as part of the Service's acquisition strategy, where geographical areas for waterfowl habitat acquisition were identified nationwide. The NAWMP tiered off of it.

The question then became how to peel that back to specifics, on the ground. A state effort was on-going, with lots of plans and assessments lying around. A lot of people had thought about this issue and there was a lot of information available, along with the people who had produced the documents. We had the opportunity to tap into that, and did.

A group of waterfowl experts were tapped to be the "brain trust" behind the original 1990 CVHJV Implementation Plan. We pulled out Shell road maps (because they were free) from the gas station and took red pens to them, dividing the Valley into the basins that came to define the planning/focal areas. The exterior boundaries were later refined.

The Management Board relied on biologists in the field to come up with biological information and the math that drove use days/acres necessary to support waterfowl. Mickey Heitmeyer, of CWA (and later DU), was an ardent waterfowl scientist who could articulate the habitat/caloric (energetic) needs of waterfowl and communicate that information very well. He came up with the formulas defining what was needed in terms of food amounts and acres to support the objective levels of waterfowl. The next question was where to get it, because we realized there wasn't enough habitat in the Central Valley to support the 4.7 million wintering ducks called for in the NAWMP. We calculated what was available, both protected and not.. "What would be a good protection goal?" became the question driving that part of the 1990 Plan. 80,000 acres was the answer.

Biologists decided that we needed more habitat, thus 120,000 acres of restored habitat, protected in perpetuity, was added as a goal.

"Energetics" was the number one issue that drove a multitude of other issues including refuge placement, restoration priorities, and protection objectives. The number two issue was disease; botulism in the late summer and early fall and cholera in the late fall and early winter. At the time California was losing thousands of waterfowl annually to these two diseases which are highly contagious and spread by close contact between birds. The theory was that if the habitat base could be increased, water quality improved, and birds better distributed and less crowded, then disease losses should decline. In many respects this theory later proved true as disease losses in the Central Valley declined as habitat quantity and quality increased as the NAWMP and CVHJV put habitat on the ground.

Wetland enhancement also became one of the original objectives. It wasn't enough just to have the wetland acres protected and restored; they needed to be upgraded and improved continually to meet the energetics needs set forth in the 1990 Plan.

The Importance of Water

Dan Chapin brought the issue of water to the table. It was an issue that set California apart from other JV's. There was no commonality with my peers at all on this issue. There's no water that's unspoken for in California; everybody wants it. In California, somebody has to turn on the spigot and write the check before water is delivered. Such is not the case in most of the other JVs throughout the country.

Dan Chapin had friends in the Grasslands and they looked to his organization, CWA, to get them water for their wetlands. Dan fought that battle every year as did the Service for its Refuges and CDFG for its Wildlife Areas. Duck clubs were not the Bureau of Reclamation's (BOR) traditional customer. So when the 1990 Plan came along, Dan sat down with Bob Shaffer, who was with the Bureau of Reclamation, and Joel Miller of the Service, and others to develop the 1989 Refuge Water Supply Report. Bob was the lead guy coordinating that effort. All the wetland managers (state, federal, and the Grasslands Water District) were feeding their water needs to the Bureau of Reclamation.. From this effort, the water objective of 443,250 acre-feet was written into the report, and subsequently included in the 1990 Plan.

Dan saw the opportunity to get a power supply at a preferred rate for duck club managers and owners. The BOR could do that for certain customers and uses. Hence, when the Management Board was forming committees, it was known as the Water and Power Committee of the CVHJV. Ultimately CVPIA provided the needed water for Central Valley wetlands so the power discussions faded away.

Agriculture's Importance

An Agricultural Enhancement Objective was developed because the energetic requirements necessitated the inclusion of private croplands to meet waterfowl goals. The waterfowl energetics requirements could not be met by wetlands alone. This understanding led to the addition of an agricultural enhancement objective that included important crops for waterfowl including rice, corn, cereal grains, and pasture land. Objectives and ultimately incentives for farmers became part of the plan.

Signature Role

In April 1990 the Plan was ready to be signed. Dan Chapin (CWA) and Richard Spotts (DOW) encouraged the Management Board to have a signing ceremony that would be splashy and involve the heads of the signing agencies. So we organized a big signing event in the Governor's press room in the State Capitol. The event represented an important symbolic commitment to the Joint Venture by representatives at the highest levels. Later, when new directors came on board, they were invited to meet with the Board and discuss the benefits of partnership with the CVHJV. After they were briefed by the Board, they were asked very directly about what contributions their organization could make to the Joint Venture. If it seemed like a good fit, they were invited to sign the Plan. Everyone had to sign the Plan. Commitments were made in writing and the Management Board held everyone to it.

We had a nice party afterwards that marked the beginning of a culture of colleagues that became like a family. Social events became an important factor in building the bonds between partners.

The Perfect Storm

The culture grew, the NAWMP started to mature, and a perfect storm developed – one that was very beneficial to us. The book Cadillac Desert was published, and the author Marc Reisner became a great advocate for change at the Bureau of Reclamation because water – a public resource – was being ‘given away'. This led directly to a reevaluation of the allocation of water, which led to the Miller/Bradley legislation, which led to the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA).

Dan Chapin was the maestro on the CVPIA. Congressman George Miller's office checked in with him regularly to make sure it had the "right stuff" for ducks. Glenn Olson was also very involved in drafting language. At the time, President Bush also spoke about "no net loss of wetlands", a term that was repeated like a mantra, and became part of this perfect storm. As specific line items in CVPIA were being written and debated one of Dan's favorite sayings was "we're hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree;"meaning that each line item in the bill was a "goodie" for someone—salmon advocates, duck clubs and waterfowl hunters, or farmers.

NAWCA was another part of the perfect storm. It was the twilight days of the first Bush Administration. The President signed the NAWCA legislation because the Republicans were fearful that when incoming President Clinton assumed office the Democratic version of this wetland bill would be far too liberal. The 1992 USDA Farm Bill was yet another funding vehicle for habitat conservation through programs like the Wetlands Reserve and Conservation Reserve Programs.

On the state side of things, there were bond initiatives that had line items, providing funding for the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) to acquire wetlands in the Central Valley. The WCB's Inland Wetland's Conservation Program was established, taking its habitat objectives directly from the 1990 Plan. All of these wonderful things were happening at once. It was pretty exciting. Other JV's were envious of all the tools we had in our tool box, but they didn't have our myriad environmental problems.

Watching it Grow

In those early years we had a lot of committee meetings and I was the common thread. I kept track of what people were doing and kept the various pieces connected. It was nice to watch the partners start to develop individual programs designed to support their work with the Joint Venture such as DU's Valley C.A.R.E., DFG's Comprehensive Wetlands and Presley Programs, and CWA's Wood Duck and Mallard Program.

Projects were driven more by politics, money and momentum than biology, so people skills turned out to be really important. That's why, when I became the Refuge Supervisor for the Central Valley, Bay Area, and the Klamath Basin, I encouraged Bob Shaffer to apply for the Coordinator position. Bob was concerned that he didn't have the biological background, but he had the right people skills and to me they were much more important to accomplish the job than biological expertise.

Being Coordinator of the CVHJV was the best job I ever had. We took something that was poorly defined, defined it, and put projects and habitat on the ground that didn't exist when we started. It was just hugely fun to work in an environment without any constraints, with people who became good friends.


The CVJV partnership has earned an impressive record of accomplishment since its inception in 1988, and is making great progress towards meeting the objectives identified in its 2006 Implementation Plan.

Around the Valley

Follow these links to learn about some of the important bird conservation work happening in California's Central Valley.