Monday, June 28, 2010

USDA to Help Farmers and Ranchers Expand Habitat for Migrating Birds

State Conservationist J.R. Flores today announced that the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will work with farmers, ranchers and other private landowners in Missouri to develop and enhance habitat for birds making their annual migration south towards the Gulf of Mexico.

Under the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative, NRCS will partner with agricultural producers to manage portions of their land to provide additional food and habitat for migrating birds.

Flores estimates that about $1.9 million will be available in Missouri to help private landowners improve habitat for some of the 50 million migratory birds that will be traveling south in the coming months. Those birds instinctively head toward the marshes and coastlands of the northern Gulf of Mexico. Flores said that with some marshes and coastlands already degraded, and with the potential for larger-scale oil impacts in the coming months, it is important to provide food, water and cover for the migrating birds before they reach the oil-impacted areas. He said the first push of birds could reach Missouri in August.

"Missouri is the northernmost state taking part in this initiative, and so we have the first opportunity to make sure that the migrating birds have food, water and cover before they move farther south," Flores said. "Missouri will provide additional stopover habitat for these birds, thus providing more food and foraging opportunities. This will give the birds more energy reserves if faced with limited habitat around the coastline."

The initiative encompasses portions of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. NRCS, in cooperation with its conservation partners, has identified priority areas that offer the greatest habitat potential for migrating bird populations. NRCS anticipates improving habitat on up to 150,000 acres throughout the eight states. Based upon prior experience, NRCS hopes to see millions of birds coming to rest and feed in the priority areas.

Flores said the priority areas in Missouri include the following counties: In central and western Missouri -- Bates, Vernon, Lafayette, Johnson, Saline, Cooper, Moniteau and Cole; in southeastern Missouri ­ Bollinger, Scott, Mississippi, Stoddard, Butler, New Madrid, Dunklin and Pemiscot.

NRCS will utilize its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) and Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) to work with partners to provide a variety of habitats to meet the needs of different species.

Emphasis will be on creating or enhancing wildlife habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl, including shallow water and mudflat habitats. Shallow water, ranging from mudflats to less than one-foot deep, is the key to creating suitable habitat. Most shorebirds forage in water less than four inches deep, and most other water birds, including waterfowl, forage in water less than one-foot deep.

Flores said lands of special interest in Missouri are agricultural lands that contain wetlands farmed under natural conditions and areas where wetlands were previously converted to croplands. He said that the rice fields in southeastern Missouri are particularly well-suited for this initiative. NRCS will provide financial and technical resources to agricultural producers to install practices which control water levels and enhance habitat to attract migratory birds.

NRCS has wetland conservation easements enrolled in WRP. Through the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative, NRCS will help landowners implement additional management strategies on these easements to optimize habitat for migratory birds and other species. NRCS will also use EQIP and WHIP to work with producers to enhance available habitat.

Flores said USDA will deliver this initiative in Missouri with the support from partners, including the Missouri Department of Conservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and local soil and water conservation districts.

The sign-up for the initiative will be until August 1. Interested producers should contact their local USDA Service Center for additional information. More information is also available at

NRCS is celebrating 75 years of helping people help the land. Since 1935, the NRCS conservation delivery system has advanced a unique partnership with state and local governments and private landowners delivering conservation based on specific, local conservation needs, while accommodating state and national interests. This migratory bird habitat initiative is emblematic of a partnership approach to natural resources conservation.

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