DEC Funding Available for Grassland Protection Program

Private landowners interested in enhancing and restoring critical grassland habitat could be eligible for grants totaling approximately $1 million, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens announced today. With grasslands declining in New York and nationwide, DEC’s Landowner Incentive Program (LIP) for Grassland Protection and Management directs funding to projects on private property that will help at-risk species that depend on unique grassland ecosystems to survive.

“Through the Landowner Incentive Program, private landowners have been directly involved in conserving grasslands for a variety of species since 2008,” Commissioner Martens said. “Governor Cuomo recognizes the value of this program for vital habitat protection. This latest round of grants will significantly increase the acreage of conservation grasslands and provide even greater benefits for New York’s grassland species.”

Grasslands provide important habitat for a variety of wildlife and are especially significant for birds. In New York, the endangered short-eared owl, the threatened Henslow’s sparrow, and the threatened upland sandpiper need grasslands to avoid further declines in their populations. Grassland acreage in the state has decreased drastically over the last three decades primarily due to a reduction in pasture and hayfields, reversion of abandoned farmland to forests, and development of farmland. Between 1965 and 2006, pastures and hayfields in New York decreased by approximately 33 percent in area, and, during that time, grassland bird populations decreased at a fairly steady average rate of 6.5 percent per year.

To help address the loss of grasslands and associated at-risk species, the LIP was created as a partnership between DEC and private landowners since the vast majority of grasslands are privately owned. Under LIP, enrolled landowners that engage in stewardship activities that are beneficial for breeding grassland birds are compensated for their efforts. The program is funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through State Wildlife Grants. This grant program was created and is funded by Congress to help rare and declining species before they require listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

Michael F. Burger, Ph.D., Director of Conservation and Science for Audubon New York said, “Most of the grasslands in New York are on private lands, and the future of our grassland birds depends on the stewardship of those lands. DEC’s Landowner Incentive Program is critical to provide the education, technical assistance and incentives that will help private landowners support those birds. We look forward to helping DEC make this program a success.”

Eligible private landowners interested in offsetting the decline in grassland bird habitat and populations will be able to apply for technical advice and financial incentives of $110 or $113 per acre per year to conduct the prescribed site management. The higher rate will be applied for parcels of land located within 25 miles of large urban areas, reflecting higher soil rental rates near population centers. To be eligible to apply, an applicant must own at least 25 acres of contiguous grassland located within one of the grassland focus areas across the state. They include portions of the following counties: Allegany, Cayuga, Chemung, Clinton, Cortland, Erie, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Genesee, Herkimer, Jefferson, Livingston, Madison, Monroe, Montgomery, Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Ontario, Orleans, Otsego, Saratoga, Schoharie, Schuyler, Seneca, St. Lawrence, Steuben, Suffolk, Tompkins, Ulster, Washington, Warren, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates.

To learn more about the program and obtain an application form, visit the Protecting Grassland Birds on Private Lands page available on DEC’s website. For questions or comments regarding the program, send an email to the program or call (518) 402-8943. The deadline for submitting a pre-application is January 15, 2013.

This press release was produced by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.