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24
Wildlife to benefit from new conservation programs
Quail, cranes among animals for which federal programs are seeking more habitat


By Robert Pore
robert.pore@theindependent.com

Two new government conservation programs could help to increase habitat for bobwhite quail, pheasants, sandhill cranes and other wildlife in Nebraska.
In addition to the Conservation Reserve Program general sign-up, the USDA announced a new initiative will create 250,000 acres of habitat for the northern bobwhite quail, a native quail species that has historically ranged in 35 states, including Nebraska.

According to state FSA officials, Nebraska will be allotted 6,000 acres for the bobwhite quail initiative.

USDA estimates this nesting and brood-rearing cover will increase bobwhite quail numbers by 750,000 birds annually. Planted buffers will also benefit reptiles, amphibians, aquatic species and upland birds, many of which are being considered for listing as endangered species. In addition, the initiative will reduce soil erosion and protect water quality by trapping field sediments and nutrients.

USDA estimates the program will provide $125 million in payments to participants through 2007, when the overall statutory enrollment limit is expected to be reached. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and 32 state fish and wildlife agencies are expected to offer technical, monitoring and evaluation assistance.

Quail Unlimited, the Southeast Quail Study Group, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and other conservation groups, as well as local conservation districts, may provide outreach, technical expertise and other assistance.

The other new initiative will create 250,000 acres of wetlands and playa lakes in non-floodplain areas as vital habitat for species such as upland ducks, pheasants and sandhill cranes. In Nebraska, 14,000 acres has been allotted to the wetlands initiative.

The new program will allow landowners to enroll large wetland complexes and playa lakes located outside the 100-year floodplain. Restoring these systems will provide vital habitat for many wildlife species, such as upland ducks and sandhill cranes. Wetlands also filter runoff, recharge groundwater supplies, protect drinking water and reduce downstream flooding.

The new wetlands initiative will further the large-scale accomplishments of CRP, which has already restored 1.8 million wetland and wetland buffer acres nationwide. For the first time in recent history, agriculture had a net gain in wetland acres compared with the previous year. From 1997-2002, farmers and ranchers produced a net increase of 131,400 acres of wetlands.

CRP currently offers wetlands restoration incentives that target for enrollment 500,000 acres located in the 100-year floodplain, as well as the Farmable Wetlands Program, which protects up to 1 million acres of farmed and previously converted wetlands of less than 40 acres per tract.

USDA also offers the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), which targets enrollment of 2.3 million acres of larger wetland complexes and those with the most critical environmental needs under permanent easements, 30-year easements and restoration cost-share agreements.

In June, USDA announced the new Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program that works with partners to leverage resources in order to further wetlands protections within the requirements of the WRP.

USDA estimates the total cost of the wetlands restoration initiative to be $200 million. FSA will offer participants an incentive payment equal to 25 percent of the cost of restoring the hydrology of the site, an annual rental payment and cost-share assistance of up to 50 percent of eligible practice installation costs.

Program sign-up for both these new initiatives will begin Oct. 1 at local FSA offices and will run on a continuous basis until the total acreage has been enrolled or Dec. 31, 2007, whichever comes first.

To determine individual eligibility for the initiative or the general CRP sign-up, landowners should check with their local FSA office. More information on these initiatives, including acreage allocation by state, is available at local FSA offices and on FSA's Web site at: www.fsa.usda.gov.

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