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News Articles

05
CRP initiative benefits quail By Lana Robinson
Field Editor

Texas farmers interested in increasing quail populations on their properties may be eligible for the USDA Farm Service Agency's (FSA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Northern Bobwhite Quail Habitat Initiative. The program is aimed at creating 250,000 acres of habitat for the northern bobwhite quail in 35 states, including Texas. The initiative partners FSA with landowners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD). Sign-up began Oct. 1, 2004, but to date, just over 700 of the 20,000 allocated acres for Texas is all that have been enrolled.

"I think one of the main reasons we've had so little acreage signed up is people don't know about it," said Chuck Kowalesky, farm bill coordinator for the TPWD. "It has been slow getting off the ground.

"We're hoping the increase will provide hunting opportunities and revenue for landowners," Kowalesky continued. "Especially in the Rolling Plains, they're making as much on quail hunting—sometimes more—than they are on deer hunting. About 500 of the 700 acres enrolled are in Runnels County. The local FSA there is promoting it."

Throughout their range, the bobwhite quail population has declined from an estimated 59 million birds in 1980 to about 20 million in 1999. The initiative introduces a conservation practice intended to create 250,000 acres of early successional grass buffers along agricultural field borders, he said.

"The limiting factor for quail in most cropland areas is permanent cover. They need it in order to raise chicks and hide out from predators, summer and winter. The idea is to plant native warm season grasses, forbes and shrubs—stand plum, hog plum, and whatever is specified in the program participant's approved USDA conservation plan. Quail like a low shrub that's open underneath—open enough to see land-based predators."

The applicant must satisfy the basic eligibility and cropping history criteria for CRP. To determine individual eligibility for the initiative, landowners should check with their local FSA office. Program participants must apply conservation practice CP 33, Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds, around field edges of eligible cropland. Besides benefiting bobwhite quail, planted buffers will also benefit other wildlife, especially upland birds, many of which are being considered for listing as endangered species. Buffers also help reduce soil erosion and protect water quality by trapping field sediments and nutrients, Kowalesky explained.

Participants get automatic enrollment of eligible acres. Incentive, cost share and maintenance payments are offered for establishing and maintaining buffers as follows: 1) Signing Incentive Payments of up to $100 per acre ($10/acre/yr. of contract); 2) Practice Incentive Payments of up to 40 percent of the eligible establishment cost; 3) Annual Rental Payments and maintenance costs. Producers will receive annual rental payments for the length of the contract (10 years). The payment is a weighted average of the county specific rental rate for comparable land, plus practice maintenance; and 4) Cost-share assistance of up to 50 percent of the eligible reimbursable practice costs.

"It's a continuous sign up," Kowalesky added, meaning eligible land may be enrolled at any time until the state's 20,000 acres have been enrolled, or Dec. 31, 2007, whichever comes first. "Eligible acres are automatically enrolled. Eligible land is not competitively ranked as in traditional CRP."

More information on the CRP Northern Bobwhite Quail Habitat Initiative is available at local FSA offices and on FSA's Web site at: www.fsa.usda.gov.

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