Published Monday, Oct. 15, 2012
At the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge near Yuba City, wetlands that should be teeming with mallards, canvasbacks, geese and pelicans are instead parched and barren.
The refuge, established in 1945, is normally able to flood its 21 wetland tracts by early October. They provide food and shelter for millions of birds that migrate across the globe, using California's Central Valley as a vital stop along the Pacific Flyway.
In addition to their ecological importance, the Sacramento Valley's public wildlife refuges attract more than 200,000 visitors per year, including hunters, anglers and bird lovers. They are one of the only options for outdoor lovers who can't afford a pricey duck club membership or an exotic bird-watching safari.
This year, 80 percent of the Sutter refuge remains dry. That means about 2,000 acres of potential habitat is nearly empty of bird life. Ponds normally busy with squawking ducks and geese are dried to a crisp in the October sun.
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