Conservation Action and Advocacy Events


The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service became interested in the present Refuge locale in 1976 when the federally-listed Aleutian Canada goose was discovered using the Faith Ranch and Mapes Ranch as winter habitat. At that time, the Faith Ranch was owned by the Paul Davies family and the Mapes Ranch was owned by the Bill Lyons, Sr. family. Both ranches were primarily beef cattle operations, although the Mapes Ranch also had a small amount of row crop agricultural production. Although bounded by riparian habitat to the north, west and south, the uplands of both ranches were dominated by short-cropped irrigated pasture, scattered wetlands and stock ponds. This complex of habitats formed optimum foraging and roosting habitat for wintering Aleutian Canada geese. Subsequent monitoring revealed that more than 98% of the Aleutian Canada goose population wintered on these lands. The open terrain of the ranches provided high quality habitat for other geese, lesser and greater Sandhill Cranes, as well as other wildlife.

1986 - Stanislaus Audubon Donates Initial Purchase Funds

The first land acquisition occurred in 1988 when the Service purchased the 777-acre Christman Island from the National Audubon Society. Christman Island, formerly part of the Mapes Ranch, had been purchased by the Audubon Society in 1986 through a donation from Joseph M. Long and Don Lundberg, with the intent of re-selling it to the Service. During this time, the Service Realty Office was meeting with the Davies family landowners to pursue purchase of other lands within the acquisition boundary.

1987 - San Joaquin River NWR Established

The Service established the San Joaquin River N.W.R. in 1987 for the primary purpose of meeting the wintering habitat objectives of the Aleutian Canada Goose Recovery Plan. At that time, the approved Refuge acquisition boundary (the area within which the Service could acquire and manage land) totaled 10,295 acres, and included primarily the Faith Ranch and Mapes Ranch east of the San Joaquin River, and a portion of another property west of the river. Initially, all Refuge land acquisition was planned as fee title purchase.


In 1990 an out-of-state developer began plans to develop Diablo Grande, a huge residential area with six golf courses in the coastal range west of Patterson. In order to protect the relatively undeveloped Coastal Range and its birds and wildlife, Stanislaus Audubon Society secured funding and joined with Protect Our Water (POW) to oppose the project. A main issue was the development's lack of secure water. Audubon was successful in invalidating the first two environmental impact reports (EIR) and getting a decision from the Court of Appeal that the EIR had to state how water was to be secured. Since it was able to get only limited water, the developer cut back on the original project to only one golf course and limited housing. The project has since closed the golf course and the developer has gone bankrupt twice. The owners continue to struggle with water quality and supply.


In 2012 The Willms Ranch near Knights Ferry proposed to divide its 2,400 acre cattle ranch into 42 smaller parcels. Stanislaus Audubon Society, concerned about the effect that the creation of 42 hobby farms would have on birds and wildlife, requested that an environmental impact report (EIR) be developed. After the planning commission approved the parcel splits without an EIR, Audubon appealed to the Board of Supervisors and then to the Superior Court.* Once the lawsuit was filed, The Willms accepted that the law required an EIR and allowed judgement to be made against it. However, the Willms Ranch never did prepare an EIR, knowing that it would show significant damage to the wildlife and environment and preclude the proposed parcel split.

* Among the papers filed by the Willms was a bird list that claimed there were no Bald Eagles in the area. At the public hearing however, a dramatic video taken by Audubon member Jim Gain was shared, which to the surprise of the hearing’s participants, showed a Bald Eagle flying directly over the Willms home.


DESCRIPTION - The Tricolored Blackbird is North America’s most colonial landbird. Colonies in the 1930’s numbered in the hundreds of thousands, though today the largest colonies are in the tens of thousands. Tricolored Blackbirds differ from the more common Red-winged Blackbird in a number of ways, but the most obvious is that wings of males have a white band under a scarlet shoulder-patch, or epaulette, while Red-winged Blackbirds have a reddish-orange epaulette and either no band under the epaulette or a buffy-yellow band. More information about the biology and conservation of Tricolored Blackbirds may be found at the U.C. Davis Tricolored Blackbird Portal:

CRITICAL DECLINE - The Tricolored Blackbird is listed as Threatened under the California Endangered Species Act. This species, which is found almost exclusively in California, once numbered as many as 2-3 million birds. The 2017 statewide Tricolored Blackbird survey resulted in a population estimate of 177,600 individuals. Habitat loss is the primary cause of the decline of this species.

SUCCESSFUL COALITION - Some of the largest colonies of Tricolored Blackbirds in recent years have been found in silage fields. A coalition of state, federal, and non-governmental agencies and organizations, including Audubon California, has conducted a program which compensates farmers for delaying silage harvest, or in some cases purchasing the silage crop, in order to allow the birds to complete their nesting cycle. Stanislaus Audubon has supported this program through donations and by working with local lawmakers to support the program. Information about this program and other conservation actions may be found at:

CHAPTER INVOLVEMENT - Conservation of the Tricolored Blackbird is a significant priority for Stanislaus Audubon Society. Chapter members have participated in, and coordinated Stanislaus County surveys for, the statewide Tricolored Blackbird survey. This survey is conducted every three years, and was last conducted in 2017. The 2020 survey was postponed to 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Chapter members have also participated in studies of foothill-breeding Tricolored Blackbirds, the results of which have been published in Central Valley Birds (formerly Central Valley Bird Club Bulletin).

Stanislaus Audubon continues to work with other Central Valley Audubon chapters and Audubon California to support conservation of Tricolored Blackbirds.


Stanislaus Audubon Society values its connection and ongoing communications with Audubon California. Some of our board members have attended regional Audubon conferences in the past. In 2014, Salvatore Salerno attended a Chapter Capacity Building Workshop in Sacramento, sponsored by Audubon California staff and also attended by members from other Northern California chapters. Almost every year since the spring of 2015, a few Stanislaus Audubon board members have participated in Advocacy Day at the State Capitol in Sacramento. This event, scheduled by Audubon California, consists of meetings with either legislative aides, or sometimes with assembly members or state senators. Since Audubon is a nonpartisan environmental organization, these visits are made to legislators of both political parties. Our advocacy is always concerning bills which involve the preservation and protection of the habitats of wild birds and other wildlife, consistent with the mission statement of our chapter. Over the past few years, our chapter has advocated for environment education, “Green Shield” provisions against Federal restrictions to the Migratory Bird Treaty Acts and Endangered Species Act, climate change proposals, Tricolored Blackbird breeding surveys and protections, and many other issues. Our chapter looks forward to a continuing partnership with Audubon California in the future.


The founder of the town of Grayson in Stanislaus County was also a self-taught ornithologist and bird artist known in the 19th century as “The Audubon of the West.” Despite great hardships, Grayson created Birds of the Pacific Slope, which was not published until 117 years after his death. In 2015, Stanislaus Audubon Society sought to purchase those volumes, which consisted of Grayson’s biography, full-color prints of 156 bird paintings, and his field notes.

After fundraising, our chapter purchased an edition of Birds of the Pacific Slope. On July 12, 2016, our chapter donated this masterwork to the Vasche Library of Stanislaus State. With funds left over from that purchase, our chapter established an annual Grayson / Audubon Scholarship of $600 to a promising student of Environmental Sciences at Stanislaus State. As of 2020, the recipients of this scholarship have been Anela Medeiros, Rachael Devaughn, Lalayna Hablutzel, and CeCe Hurst. Our chapter hopes to continue this scholarship in perpetuity.

Cultivating conservation through inclusion, communication, and education.