USDA TO HELP FARMERS AND RANCHERS EXPAND HABITAT FOR MIGRATING BIRDS

USDA TO HELP FARMERS AND RANCHERS EXPAND HABITAT FOR MIGRATING BIRDS

Public-private effort will increase wetland habitat in eight states for migratory birds heading towards the Gulf of Mexico

Alexandria, June 28, 2010 - State Conservationist Kevin Norton today announced that USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will work with farmers, ranchers, and other landowners to develop and enhance habitat for birds making their annual migration south towards the Gulf of Mexico. Under the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative, NRCS will partner with producers to manage portions of their land to provide additional food and habitat for migrating birds.

Norton estimates more than $1 million in funding for the initiative in Louisiana.

"More than 50 million migratory birds traveling south in coming months will instinctively head toward the marshes and coastlands of the northern Gulf of Mexico," said Norton. "With some marshes and shorelines already degraded and the potential for larger-scale oil impacts in the coming months, it is essential that we provide inland and coastal food, water, and cover for migratory birds before they reach the oil-impacted areas."

The initiative encompasses portions of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas. NRCS, in cooperation with its conservation partners, has identified priority areas that offer the greatest habitat potential for migrating bird populations. NRCS anticipates improving habitat on up to 100,000 to 150,000 acres throughout the eight states, based on expected producer participation. Based on prior experience, NRCS hopes to see millions of birds coming to rest and feed in the priority areas.

Priority areas in Louisiana are in Acadia, Allen, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Caldwell, Cameron, Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Evangeline, Franklin, Iberia, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Madison, Morehouse, Natchitoches, Ouachita, Pointe Coupee, Rapides, Richland, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Tensas, Vermilion, and West Carroll Parishes.

"We expect there will be great interest from our farmers and ranchers who want to do something positive to help the migrating birds-not only this fall, but next spring and in subsequent years as well," said Norton.

USDA will use conservation programs administered by NRCS and will work with partners, both public and private, to provide a variety of habitats to meet the needs of different species. Emphasis will be on creating or enhancing habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl, including shallow water, mudflat, and sandflat habitats. Of special interest are agricultural lands that contain wetlands farmed under natural conditions and prior converted croplands.  Rice fields are particularly well-suited for this initiative, as are catfish and crawfish farms.

USDA will deliver this initiative with the support from partners in Louisiana including Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Gulf Coast Joint Venture, Ducks Unlimited, LSU AgCenter, USA Rice Federation, The Nature Conservancy, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Louisiana's Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

The signup for the initiative will run from June 28 to August 1. Interested producers should contact their local USDA Service Center for additional information. More information is available at: www.la.nrcs.usda.gov.

NRCS is celebrating 75 years helping people help the land in 2010. Since 1935, the NRCS conservation delivery system has advanced a unique partnership with state and local governments and private landowners delivering conservation based on specific, local conservation needs, while accommodating state and national interests. This migratory bird habitat initiative is emblematic of a partnership approach to natural resource conservation.

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