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DEC Announces $1.8 Million in Land Trust Grants

Conservation Partnership Grants Awarded to 58 Land Trusts across New York State; Grants to Land Trusts Leverage Additional $1.5 Million in Community Contributions and Private Support

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced $1.8 million in Conservation Partnership Program grants for 58 nonprofit land trusts across the state. The grants, funded through New York's Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), will leverage an additional $1.5 million in private and local funding to support projects that will protect farmland, wildlife habitat, and water quality, enhance public access for outdoor recreation, and conserve priority open space areas critical for community health, tourism and regional economic development.

"Through partnerships with local land trusts, the Environmental Protection Fund provides critical support for open space programs across the state," said Commissioner Seggos. "These grants help local land trusts support our work to protect New York's peerless waters, lands, and habitats and preserve our state's natural resources, while leveraging even more resources communities can put to good use protecting these irreplaceable assets."

In recognition of Earth Week, a weeklong celebration of New York's commitment and accomplishments to protect our environment, DEC and the Land Trust Alliance unveiled the grantees at an event at Winter Hill in Garrison in Putnam County.

The Land Trust Alliance administers the Conservation Partnership Program in coordination with DEC. The 14th round of Conservation Partnership Program grants will help local land trusts sustain and expand community and landowner outreach initiatives and develop an array of land conservation, stewardship, and education programs.

The grants will further regional economic development goals by strengthening partnerships with local and state governments and advancing locally supported efforts to protect working farms, enhance public access and recreation opportunities, and conserve private lands prioritized in New York State's Open Space Conservation Plan and state wildlife action plan. Land trusts will also apply grant funds to prepare for national accreditation, supporting New York land trust commitments to rigorous national standards for nonprofit governance and organizational excellence.

"Coming at a time when every effort makes a difference, this initiative enables land trusts, local communities and private landowners to better protect New York's most important water resources, farmlands, wildlife habitats and urban green spaces," said Andrew Bowman, president of the Land Trust Alliance. "New York's clear commitment to its Environmental Protection Fund sets a standard that can inspire other states to protect water quality, promote healthy communities and address our changing climate. These are smart investments in our collective future. On behalf of the Land Trust Alliance and our supporters, we thank Governor Cuomo, Commissioner Seggos and the New York State Legislature for supporting these efforts."

"The Conservation Partnership Program has demonstrated impressive statewide success by supporting land trusts in our local communities," said Andy Zepp, chair of the Land Trust Alliance's New York Advisory Board and executive director for Finger Lakes Land Trust. "Together with state funding for land conservation and farmland protection, this program helps to protect and care for New York's precious water resources, natural heritage and working lands, and to create trails, preserves and community gardens. It directly benefits our economy, from tourism and outdoor recreation to farming and forestry. The program leverages additional resources to advance New York's Open Space Conservation Plan, enhancing services and support for local municipalities, and enabling private landowners and land trusts to achieve their stewardship goals," he added.

Grant awards ranged from $4,700 to $75,000. Among the 58 different land trusts awarded grants were several local organizations based in the Mid-Hudson Valley Region. In all, 18 grants totaling $444,700 were awarded to organizations in the Mid-Hudson Valley region.

Michelle Smith, Executive Director of Hudson Highlands Land Trust, said, "We are delighted to be hosting this year's Conservation Partnership Program awards announcement at our offices at Winter Hill. This program has been critical to the development of our land trust, helping us build capacity and expand our impact. A perfect example is the 350-acre Granite Mountain project for which we are being awarded a Transaction Grant this year. This funding will enable Hudson Highlands Land Trust to create public access and permanently protect lands that provide clean drinking water to the City of Peekskill and Town of Cortlandt."

The EPF-funded grants also support green infrastructure, urban trails and community garden programs administered by Grassroots Gardens of Western New York, Green Guerrillas and Brooklyn-Queens Land Trust in New York City, and Capital Roots (formerly Capital District Community Gardens) in Albany/Troy.

Additionally, the grants will assist organizations that are committing to the accreditation process over the next three years, contributing to the Alliance's goal of reaching 40 nationally accredited land trusts in New York by 2020. This year's grantees include 29 accredited land trusts: Agricultural Stewardship Association, Champlain Area Trails, Columbia Land Conservancy, Delaware Highlands Conservancy, Dutchess Land Conservancy, Finger Lakes Land Trust, Genesee Land Trust, Genesee Valley Conservancy, Hudson Highlands Land Trust and Indian River Lakes Conservancy. Lake George Land Conservancy, Mianus River Gorge, Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, Mohonk Preserve, North Shore Land Alliance, Open Space Institute, Orange County Land Trust, Otsego Land Trust, Rensselaer Land Trust, Rondout-Esopus Land Conservancy, Saratoga P.L.A.N., Scenic Hudson, The Nature Conservancy, Thousand Islands Land Trust, Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust, Wallkill Valley Land Trust, Westchester Land Trust, Western New York Land Conservancy, and Winnakee Land Trust.

For a summary of this round of grant awards and awardee directory, please visit the New York State Conservation Partnership Program web page on DEC's website.

The $1.8 million was awarded by region as follows:
  • Western New York /Finger Lakes/Southern Tier: 13 awards totaling $365,900
  • Central New York/Mohawk Valley: 6 awards totaling $145,440
  • North Country: 12 awards totaling $219,950
  • Capital District: 14 awards totaling $448,600
  • Mid-Hudson: 18 awards totaling $444,700
  • New York City: 4 awards totaling $117,300
  • Long Island: 2 awards totaling $68,000
Since the program's inception in 2002, the Conservation Partnership Program has awarded over 750 grants totaling $14.9 million in EPF funds to 87 different land trust organizations across the state. The state's investment has leveraged over $17 million in additional funding from local communities and private donors.

The 2017-18 State Budget includes $300 million for the EPF, sustaining the increase from last year that elevated EPF funding to the highest level ever. The funding will support state land stewardship, agriculture programs, invasive species prevention and eradication, water quality improvement, municipal recycling and an aggressive environmental justice agenda. Further, this funding level will establish new programs to help communities adapt to climate change through resiliency planning and capital projects, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions outside of the power sector. Additional resources to support land acquisition to safeguard water quality were included in the landmark $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act in the 2017-18 Budget, as well.

Recent research underscores how New York's investment in land conservation and open space boosts property values, supports local businesses, saves taxpayer dollars and protects public health. A study by the Trust for Public Land found that every dollar of investment from New York's Environmental Protection Fund generates $7 in total economic benefits from tourism, reduced government costs and public health.

The EPF grants announced today will support local efforts that contribute substantially to the Mid-Hudson Valley region's agricultural sector and tourism economy by helping to preserve and expand public access to trails and other popular recreation areas. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation in New York directly supports 305,000 jobs across the state, generating $15 billion in wages and tax revenue.

Article by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: May 01, 2017

Secretary Zinke Announces Boost to Wetland, Waterfowl Conservation

$38.8 million approved for wetland conservation projects; $7.8 million to conserve 2,629 acres on national wildlife refuges and open thousands of additional acres to public hunting

The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, chaired by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, today approved $17.8 million in grants for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners to conserve or restore more than 108,000 acres of wetland and associated upland habitats for waterfowl, shorebirds and other birds in 14 states throughout the United States. Representing Secretary Zinke at the meeting was Acting Deputy Secretary of the Interior James Cason.

The grants, made through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), will be matched by nearly $40 million in partner funds. NAWCA grants ensure waterfowl and other birds are protected throughout their lifecycles.

“Hunting and fishing are the cornerstones of Americans’ sportsmen heritage, and today, sportsmen and women are leading efforts in wildlife conservation,” said Secretary Zinke. “The projects approved today by the commission will benefit hundreds of wetland and coastal bird species, other wildlife, and their habitats, ensuring we have the ability to pass our shared heritage down to our kids and grandkids.”

Wetlands provide many ecological, economic and social benefits such as habitat for fish, wildlife and a variety of plants. NAWCA grants conserve bird populations and wetland habitat, while supporting local economies and American traditions such as hunting, fishing, birdwatching, family farming and cattle ranching. This year’s projects include:
  • North Dakota Great Plains Project IX: $1 million to conserve 27,524 acres of wetlands and associated uplands for waterfowl breeding grounds and migration habitat. Wildlife that will benefit include northern pintail and long-billed curlew.
  • Bay Denesse Delta Management: $999,989 to restore 3,060 acres of coastal habitats in two key basins in Louisiana. Seventy-five percent of project lands will provide opportunities for public hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation.
  • Horicon Coastal Connection: $1 million to protect, restore and enhance 6,154 acres of priority breeding and stopover habitat in southeastern Wisconsin. Species that will benefit include mallard, green-winged teal and northern pintail.
Since many of America’s birds spend part of their time in other countries, NAWCA provides grants to Canada and Mexico as well, to ensure waterfowl and other birds are protected throughout their lifecycles. The commission approved more than $21 million for 17 projects in those countries.

NAWCA is the only federal grant program dedicated to the conservation of wetland habitats for migratory birds. Since 1989, funding has advanced the conservation of wetland habitats and their wildlife in all 50 U.S. states, Canada and Mexico while engaging more than 5,700 partners in over 2,700 projects. More information about the grant projects is available online.

The commission also approved more than $7.8 million from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to conserve 2,629 acres for four national wildlife refuges. The approvals will improve refuge management capability and enable the Service to open thousands of additional acres to public waterfowl hunting for the first time. These funds were raised largely through the sale of Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as “Duck Stamps.”

“I grew up with a fly rod in one hand and a rifle in the other, hunting and fishing on our public lands and waters. Programs like the Duck Stamp are important tools we use to guarantee the future of hunting and fishing conservation efforts," said Secretary Zinke. “That Duck Stamp puts hunting revenues back into public lands to improve access and enhance opportunities for millions of sportsmen and women, outdoor recreationists and nature enthusiasts.”

For every dollar spent on Federal Duck Stamps, 98 cents goes toward the acquisition or lease of habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Duck Stamps – while required by waterfowl hunters as an annual license – are also voluntarily purchased by birders, outdoor enthusiasts and fans of national wildlife refuges who understand the value of preserving some of the most diverse and important wildlife habitats in our nation.

The following national wildlife refuges are approved for funding:
  • Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland: $415,900
  • Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge, Arkansas: $186,000
  • Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge, Arkansas: $101,000
  • Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon: $7,144,000
Since 1934, the Federal Duck Stamp Program and Migratory Bird Conservation Fund have provided more than $800 million for habitat conservation in the Refuge System.

The FWS is responsible for managing more than 850 million acres of lands and waters in the National Wildlife Refuge System, including five marine national monuments plus two national monuments, 566 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts. Refuges offer world-class public recreation, from fishing, hunting and wildlife observation to photography and environmental education. Every state and U.S. territory has at least one national wildlife refuge.

The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission is chaired by the Secretary of the Interior. Its members include U.S. Senators Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico; Representatives Robert J. Wittman of Virginia and Mike Thompson of California; Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture; and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. The commission has helped in conserving much of this Nation’s most important waterfowl habitat and in establishing or enhancing many of our Nation’s most popular destinations for waterfowl hunting.

Additional information about North American wetlands and waterfowl conservation can be found at https://www.fws.gov/birds/, which offers waterfowl enthusiasts, biologists and agency administrators with the most up-to-date waterfowl habitat and waterfowl population information.

News release by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: May 01, 2017

Beneficial Prescribed Burns Continue Across North Carolina

Prescribed fire is one of the most cost effective tools for wildlife management.

In an effort to improve wildlife habitat in N.C., the Wildlife Resources Commission continues to conduct prescribed burns on game lands across the state. Prescribed burns, also known as controlled burns, are one of the most beneficial and cost-effective methods for managing and improving habitat for wildlife. This simple and effective management tool helps the Commission restore and maintain wildlife habitat on nearly 2 million acres of game lands.

Many of North Carolina’s declining or rare wildlife species like the Red-cockaded woodpecker and the Bachman’s sparrow are adapted to fire or can only survive in fire-assisted habitat. Burning encourages production of native grasses and herbaceous vegetation, which provide valuable food and cover for a wide variety of wildlife species including kestrels, deer and fox squirrels. Prescribed burns are also used to reduce high levels of forest fuels (such as leaf litter and pine straw) that can cause deadly wildfires.

Fire was a natural occurrence in North Carolina to which animals have adapted. While conducting necessary prescribed burns, the Commission employs safety measures to help protect native wildlife by using burning techniques that ensure animals have time and room to escape. Wind conditions, humidity, time of year and other variables are factored in to reduce the effects of smoke on people, nesting birds and other wildlife. After an area is burned, exposed insects and seeds are available for birds and rodents to forage while quality new vegetation typically returns within a few weeks, providing cover and nutrients to a wide array of wildlife species.

For more information on prescribed burns, view No Cause for Alarm and visit Prescribed Fire: What NC Citizens Need to Know. For a schedule of prescribed burns planned for 2017, visit www.ncwildlife.org/fire. For details on the Commission’s game lands program, including an interactive game land map, visit www.ncwildlife.org/gamelands.

Article by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: April 13, 2017

How Different Spring Migrants Decide When to Head North

Tree Swallows spend the winter farther north than other related species. But they might start relocating as soon as they're encouraged by mild weather. Photo: Kenn Kaufman

Spring officially started this week, but for many of us it had already begun. Back in February, unseasonably warm temperatures swept over much of North America, buds began opening on trees, and flowers began to bloom weeks early. Naturally, birders began to ask: Will our migratory birds come back earlier, too?

That question doesn’t have a simple yes or no answer because the timing of bird migration is . . . complicated. Every species is slightly different; short-term changes in weather do have an impact, but so do a variety of other innate and environmental factors. Here’s a quick primer on how North American avians schedule their spring journeys to aid in your own birding ventures.

Two Types of Migrants

To figure out how migrating birds could be affected by balmy weather, we should start by categorizing them into two groups: obligate and facultative (to use the fancy terms). These labels aren’t ironclad—many birds fall somewhere between these extremes—but the definitions are helpful in understanding what triggers a species’ migration.

For obligate migrants, the timing of travel is dictated by hard-wired instinct. An unusually warm or cool season won’t make them suddenly decide to change their departure dates. They’ll move at about the same time each year, regardless of weather. Meanwhile, facultative migrants are more tuned in to the conditions of the moment. They have a standard timing for their migration, but they might tweak it by days, or even weeks, if the season is chillier or more temperate than usual. They’re flexible.

So how does this work during spring migration? When birds start moving north from their winter homes, the hard-wired, obligate migrants run like clockwork. That includes certain songbirds, raptors, shorebirds, and others that commute between the far north and the deep tropics or temperate southern zone. A Blackburnian Warbler spending the winter in South America or a Wood Thrush wintering in Costa Rica won’t have any way to judge what’s happening up the United States and Canada. Such species may wait for clear skies and favorable winds to launch each stage in their journey, but a major warm spell won’t cue an early arrival.

Meanwhile, most of the flexible, facultative migrants are birds that only move short distances, wintering right in the United States. This allows them to sense local conditions and seize opportunities to move closer to their breeding grounds. Overall weather patterns tend to apply to broad regions, so if the season continues to be warm, facultative birds may gradually move north ahead of schedule. For example, if the weather is mild in late February, a Fox Sparrow in Tennessee might guess that life won’t be too bad a few hundred miles farther up in Ohio. Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, American Woodcocks, Killdeers, Eastern Phoebes, and even Tree Swallows are other species that may turn up earlier than average during a warm spring.

Thinking of birds this way makes it easier to predict their arrival. Will the warblers come back early this year? Yellow-rumped Warblers might, because they’re short-distance migrants, wintering mostly in the southern states. Hooded Warblers won’t, because they’re obligate migrants, wintering deep in the tropics.

It’s even easier to understand the difference if we also consider fall migration. Among obligate migrants in North America, Orchard Orioles may start their southward journeys in July, and Yellow Warblers may travel south in August. At that time the weather is still pleasant and food is abundant, so obviously these birds aren’t driven out by cold weather—they just go when instinct tells them to. By contrast, facultative migrants may linger until conditions egg them on. Ducks, geese, and swans need open water, and although some migrate early, others may stay north until their habitat freezes over. The severity of the season may even influence how far south they go for the winter. The Sandhill Crane is another good example of a facultative migrant; in recent years, some Sandhill populations have been migrating later in fall and earlier in spring, while spending the winter farther north than they ever had in the past.

Built-in Adaptability

Now, if a bird is a stickler for schedule, can it change its migration timing? Yes, but not in its lifetime: The species will make the shift over multiple generations. As with any other instinctive behavior, migration windows can evolve over time. That adaptability is based on survival.

The perfect time for a bird to arrive on its breeding grounds is a balance of two pressures. On one hand, it needs to arrive early to claim prime territory. On the other hand, if it moves north too far or too fast, it might freeze or starve. In every population of migratory birds, individuals vary somewhat in their timing. Those that hit the sweet spot and arrive at the perfect time are more likely to nest and raise young successfully, so their genes are more likely to be passed along to the next generation.

If the climate changes so that warm spring temperatures creep up earlier, birds that arrive earlier may have the advantage. Not only will the early bird get the worm, it may also get the best territory and the healthiest mate and raise more young than its slowpoke neighbors. If the genes for early migration are passed along to more of the offspring, then over a span of many generations, the average timing of arrival of the entire population will gradually shift.

Other factors could be at work as well: For example, one study of Black-tailed Godwits suggests that females will lay eggs earlier in a warmer season, and that young birds that hatch at the beginning of the summer will migrate earlier the next spring. Research on breeding Pied Flycatchers in Europe also indicates that the first young birds to hatch will leave their African wintering grounds earlier, especially after winters with good rains. On the other hand, American Redstarts left their wintering grounds in the Caribbean later than normal after winters when food was scarce.

Scientists are still working to understand just how different species can alter their travel calendars. But with rapid climate change already under way, the concern is that some migratory birds may not be able to evolve quickly enough to keep up. You can pitch in and help experts keep track of these patterns by plugging your spring-migration sightings into databases like eBird and Audubon’s Hummingbirds at Home.

Article by the National Audubon Society.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: April 13, 2017

Engaging State and Federal Agencies on Regional Science Information

A work session during the workshop at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.

In partnership with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Appalachian LCC staff recently conducted workshops in Crossville, Tennessee and Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, Alabama to introduce LCC-funded research products to resource managers and scientists.

The events demonstrated the need behind working at a landscape scale to better plan and manage for the conservation of essential natural and cultural resources. More specifically, it showcased Appalachian LCC derived tools and resources that can enhance collaboration between federal, state, and local entities and aid conservation planning efforts that transcend state lines. A total of 67 people representing 26 organizations participated in these two events.

Each event was tailored to participants based on their feedback obtained prior to the meeting. The meetings included presentations, hands on case scenarios, facilitated discussions and break-out sessions. Drs. Paul Leonard and Daniel Hanks of Clemson University were present at the Crossville event to present and discuss the science behind the Appalachian LCC Integrated Landscape Conservation Design (Phase II LCD) effort. Participants walked through case scenarios of how Phase II of the LCD can be used in their conservation planning efforts at the local and regional level and had the opportunity to individually work with the recently developed online tool of the LCD.

Staff are presently receiving evaluations from participants that will help enhance future Appalachian LCC workshops across the region. If interested in collaborating with the LCC to organize similar workshops in your area, contact Communications Coordinator Matthew Cimitile, cmatth8@vt.edu.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: April 13, 2017

Announcing the release of the new Partners in Flight website

Partners in Flight (PIF) is excited to announce the release of its newly revised and updated website!  The URL hasn’t changed – it is still www.partnersinflight.org – but it has a fresh new look and in-depth information on current science and conservation activities across our landbird network. It builds upon and adds to the content many found useful from the old PIF site.

The updated site continues to serve as the online home of the 2016 PIF Landbird Conservation Plan.  It now also provides improved access to a wealth of landbird conservation resources and invites people to get engaged in PIF’s mission of helping species at risk and keeping common birds common.

Some key features include a Resource Library, links to PIF Databases and PIF Technical Series, working group pages, and sections describing how PIF promotes and implements landbird conservation.  The site hosts an events calendar (don’t miss IMBD!) and blog posts for sharing the latest news in landbird conservation.  You can also sign up on the site for regular updates from PIF.

Tour the new PIF website and enjoy the new look and resources to be found!

Please be aware the updated site has a new structure.  Links to content you might have from the old site will need to be updated to reflect this new structure.  Much of the old content is still available but organized differently.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: April 11, 2017

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