PODCAST: Partnerships are the key to success in Cosumnes Watershed

Two volunteers at the Cosumnes River Preserve remove primroses from the river. The invasive plant displaces beneficial native plants and damages fish and bird habitats.

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The Bureau of Land Management collaborates with many other organizations and landowners – public, private and non-profit – in managing the Cosumnes Watershed. The 46,000-acre Cosumnes River Preserve is an important stop for migratory birds and a favorite recreation area for people living in California’s Central Valley near Sacramento.

Amy Fesnock is the BLM’s Cosumnes River Preserve manager in Galt, California. BLM received $76,000 from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and more than $7.5 million from the Inflation Reduction Act for landscape restoration. BLM and its partners are planning a variety of projects at the site, from improving habitat for the endangered giant garter snake, to providing environmental education and growing native seedlings for replanting with local schoolchildren. In this interview, Fesnock speaks about the crucial role that partnerships play in the success of improving the river landscape.

TRANSCRIPT: Partnerships are critical to improving California’s Cosumnes River Preserve

(NARRATOR: David Howell, BLM): The Cosumnes River flows through Sacramento County, California, and parts of it are protected near the town of Galt. The river is located in a dynamic floodplain that is an essential waterway for fish and other aquatic species. The wetlands provide a crucial resting place for migratory birds.

I’m David Howell, and you’re listening to On The Ground, a podcast from the Bureau of Land Management. Across the Cosumnes Watershed, BLM received $70,000 from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and more than $7.5 million from the Inflation Reduction Act. I recently sat down with Amy Fesnock, BLM’s manager of the Cosumnes River Preserve, to talk about the river and her plans for that financial investment.

(Amy Fesnock, BLM Cosumnes River Preserve Manager): In California, the Cosumnes River is the last free river to flow from the Sierra Nevada. All other rivers coming out of the Sierra have some sort of water diversion or dam system, but Cosumnes does not. So when it comes to how this river behaves, it’s very sensitive to flooding, and in that natural state it really gives us a chance to see how the habitat and how those kinds of natural processes worked historically.

(Howell): I was looking at the map a moment earlier and I see that BLM has some spots of land within this giant polygon that we call the watershed. It doesn’t look like we are by far the largest landowner. So what makes our efforts have such an impact within that polygon?

(Fesnock): Well, so that’s actually another aspect that makes the Cosumnes River Preserve and this Cosumnes watershed such an inspiring or unique project area, is that it’s based on partnerships. The Cosumnes River Preserve Partnership started in the mid-1980s between The Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited, with BLM joined, and slowly over the next few years or a decade we continued to add partners like the California Department of Fish and Wildlife or the California Department of Water Resources, (the California) State Lands Commission, the Galt Joint Elementary School District, (Sacramento) County.

We are a partnership of 10 different organizations or agencies. And with that partnership, we work together to manage the 53,000 acres that make up the Cosumnes River Preserve. When I look at that whole watershed, we have even more partners that are not part of the official partnership in the reserve itself. There are simply many people interested in protecting this natural landscape, ensuring connectivity and ensuring that the Cosumnes can remain the free, wild river that it is. And BLM is just one of many, and it’s that collaboration that I think makes this place special and allows us to do the great things that we do.

In July 2022, a team from the BLM, Sacramento County Regional Parks and The Nature Conservancy spent a day removing invasive aquatic plants from the Cosumnes River Preserve. The team collected several truckloads of the invasive water primrose and water hyacinth, which will help improve water quality and habitat for the giant garter snake, an endangered species. Photo by Kirstin Heins, BLM.

(Howell): So we’re getting money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and from the Inflation Reduction Act to do some work there; Maybe give me a little overview of some of the projects you have in mind.

(Fesnock): Absolutely! So we have a number of important project areas or accents that fit within this restoration landscape. One of these is the control or management of exotic species. Some of those exotic species are aquatic, such as primrose and water hyacinth. These are important to manage to protect the wetlands and the rivers and ponds that make up the reserve, especially in the lower Delta area.

We have a population of giant garter snakes, a federally and state endangered species.

We have the state-listed Swainson’s Hawk, a raptor species unique to California that resembles a red-tailed or red-shouldered hawk. Swainson’s hawks spend their summers here in California’s Central Valley and their winters in South America…

(Howel): Wow! That’s a journey!

(Fesnock): Yes, it is! It’s one of our most important species here, so… we have a number of projects where we’re working to expand the protection of the breeding habitat that Swainson’s hawks need to breed successfully here.

We have projects that work with the Galt Joint (Union) Unified Elementary School District where we have students K through 12 go to the preserve, learn about the ecosystem, collect native seeds, plant native seeds, grow seedlings and then come back to plant those who retreat into the environment, to really connect those locals to this area and understand how we are all connected and how much work needs to be done for this ecosystem to function properly.

There are so many things happening in this basin that we are very grateful to be able to implement BIL and IRA financing on the ground.

(Howell): Yeah, that sounds like there’s a lot going on. You mentioned partner organizations earlier. Can you tell me how they improve some of the work you do?

(Fesnock): Absolutely. When I look at the amount of work that needs to be done in this watershed, it would be impossible for BLM to do it alone. And it’s really that partnership, that long-term partnership, that really allows us to have greater reach and greater momentum. So when I talk about our control of exotic plants, the water primrose, the hyacinth – the earthly issues, you know, yellow star thistle, Italian thistle, fennel, things like that – yes, BLM is actively participating in that; the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy are also helping control those pest species, the noxious, invasive weeds on their land, which is part of the preserve.

Nestled in the heart of California’s Central Valley, the 46,000-acre Preserve is a crucial stop on the Pacific Flyway for migrating and wintering waterfowl. More than 250 species of birds have been sighted on or near the preserve, including the state-listed endangered Swainson’s hawk, greater and lesser cranes, Canada geese and numerous ducks. Photo by Bob Wick.

When I think about the improvement or improvement that we do for our wetlands, some of that work is done on The Nature Conservancy’s lands. Some of that work is done with the help or assistance of another partner of ours, Ducks Unlimited. Without the knowledge and expertise that Ducks Unlimited has in the field of construction, maintenance and improvement of wetlands, it would be a lot more difficult for me to implement this. So having a partner who has that kind of knowledge and expertise, and then the willingness to share that knowledge and expertise, is what really makes this place such a great area to work in.

Our visitor numbers continue to increase, and people are getting to know us better and can rest from the hustle and bustle and city life they find themselves in. And come down and take a nice walk or paddle in the reserve and just really connect with that natural environment and I hope we continue to expand that.

(Howell): That sounds like a great place.

(Fesnock): I love it here! I count my blessings every day. Even when there are hard things that need to be done, I am so grateful to be a part of this place.

(Howell): Amy Fesnock is the BLM manager of the Cosumnes River Preserve in Galt, California. Our website features photos of the work they and others do at the Preserve.

I’m David Howell, thanks for joining me, On The Ground.

Sunset and wildlife spotting go together! The Cosumnes River Preserve is prized for its recreational trails and wildlife viewing opportunities in Sacramento County, California. Photo by Bob Wick.