NRCS, FWS to extend wildlife conservation efforts on working agricultural lands
Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe have announced an agreement that will provide long-term regulatory predictability for up to 30 years to Texas farmers, ranchers and forest landowners participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Working Lands for Wildlife initiative. Participants voluntarily implement proven conservation practices designed to protect wildlife habitat and species, such as the lesser-prairie chicken, on private lands.
"This agreement will change the way we manage at-risk species on private lands," said NRCS Texas State Conservationist Salvador Salinas. "It will provide landowners with a mechanism to keep working lands in production while complying with the Endangered Species Act, and will facilitate restoration of habitat for at-risk species. It also will help Texas farmers and ranchers rest a little easier knowing their operations are protected for the long term and that they are contributing to conserving vital natural resources."
"The American conservation movement has called for a new approach in species conservation," Salinas said. "We are working to remove fear around the Endangered Species Act and to empower private landowners across the country to keep working lands working while simultaneously protecting and sustaining at-risk species."
The agreement builds on a $33 million investment NRCS announced last spring dedicated toward producers who develop and implement conservation plans to manage and restore high-priority habitats for seven specific wildlife species across the country. The species are greater sage-grouse, New England cottontail, bog turtle, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, lesser prairie-chicken and the Southwestern willow flycatcher. NRCS, FWS and numerous state and local entities are partnering to implement WLFW.
NRCS, FWS and numerous state and local entities such as Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Pheasants Forever, Playa Lakes Joint Venture and many others are partnering to implement WLFW in Texas.
With this agreement, farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who implement and voluntarily agree to maintain the proven conservation practices in WLFW will have addressed the related ESA regulatory responsibilities for up to 30 years. These landowners will be able to operate their farms and ranches as agreed upon, providing economic benefits and species conservation simultaneously.
Under the WLFW partnership, federal, state and wildlife experts jointly identified at-risk or listed species that would benefit from targeted habitat restoration investments on private lands. Using the best available science, these wildlife experts prioritized restoration actions on a large regional scale to focus assistance most cost effectively.
WLFW attempts to remove uncertainty from the ESA for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners by converting the potential for regulation into proactive, voluntary approach that provides incentives and assistance to landowners who improve species habitat.
NRCS or one of its partners will visit the farmer or rancher's property to run an initial assessment and work with the landowner to develop a conservation plan that fits his or her needs and desires. The conservation plan identifies a core set of proven conservation practices that will benefit the species. NRCS sets aside financial assistance to implement the recommended conservation practices. During FY12, Texas NRCS obligated $662,000 for LPCI on 32,000 acres.
The federal government will grant farmers, ranchers and forest landowners regulatory predictability in return for voluntarily making wildlife habitat improvements on their private agricultural and forest lands. Participating producers must adhere to the requirements of each conservation practice during the term of their contract, which can last from one to 15 years. If landowners would like to receive regulatory predictability for up to 30 years, they must maintain the conservation practices as outlined in the NRCS and FWS agreement.
For more information about Working Lands for Wildlife, please visit www.tx.usda.gov. u