NRCS to Expand Conservation Effort for Wildlife on Agricultural Lands

From the northern bobwhite to trout and salmon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is adding dozens of new target species to its premier wildlife conservation effort that helps agricultural producers make wildlife-friendly improvements on working lands. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is adding 11 new projects to Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW), the agency’s targeted, science-based effort to help producers restore and protect habitat for declining species on farms, ranches and working forests.

“Agriculture and wildlife both thrive together through landscape conservation,” said NRCS Chief Jason Weller, who toured a Missouri farm that has created young forest habitat to aid bobwhite and many other species. “Working Lands for Wildlife has delivered many unprecedented successes over the years, and we’re proud of our collective past achievements and look forward to continuing our work with America’s producers.”

With more than two-thirds of the continental United States under private ownership, bobwhite is one of many wildlife species that depend heavily on working lands for habitat and food. Projects focus on declining species that have needs compatible with agricultural practices and rural land management and that can benefit from conservation on private lands. Some of the new projects focus on one target species; others focus on a group of species.

Projects include:

  • Northern Bobwhite in Grasslands, Virginia, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Missouri and Kentucky;
  • Northern Bobwhite in Pine Savannas, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Alabama;
  • Northeast Turtles, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Vermont;
  • American Black Duck, Delaware, Maryland, Vermont and New Jersey;
  • Yazoo Darter, Mississippi;
  • Conasauga River Aquatic Species, Georgia and Tennessee;
  • Colorado River Aquatic Species, Texas;
  • Shorebirds of Louisiana Wetlands, Louisiana;
  • Cutthroat Trout, Colorado;
  • Sandhills Grasslands, Nebraska; and
  • Kenai Peninsula Salmon, Alaska.

When habitat is restored for these species, many others benefit. NRCS uses species as indicators of the health of the ecosystem at-large.

NRCS staff worked with conservation partners to identify new species and landscapes. Considerations included the compatibility of the species and agriculture, the network of available partners and the needs of the species.

Working Lands for Wildlife Conservation Model

So far, WLFW has helped producers restore 6.7 million acres of habitat for seven target species, such as the New England cottontail and greater sage-grouse. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined last year that Endangered Species Act protections were not necessary for these species largely because of the voluntary conservation efforts on working lands.

“The future of wildlife, agriculture and rural ways of life depend on our collective ability to transfer our Working Lands for Wildlife model to more species and working landscapes,” Weller said.

Through WLFW, NRCS strategically invests where conservation returns are highest and measures how wildlife respond to management activities to refine conservation efforts.

Own or Manage Land? You Can Help.

NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to help producers adopt a variety of conservation practices on their land. NRCS staff help producers with a conservation plan and provide funding to cover part of the costs for adopting the practices. These practices are designed to benefit both the species and the agricultural operation.

To learn more about assistance opportunities, landowners should contact their local USDA service center.