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News Release

USDA to Help Farmers and Ranchers Expand Habitat for Migrating Birds Initiative 2010

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

Auburn, Alabama, June 28, 2010

State Conservationist Dr. William E. Puckett 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.

“Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Ron Sparks initiated this request and was instrumental in working with USDA officials to expand enrollment and include incentives in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) for migratory birds,” said Puckett. Alabama will receive approximately $3 million for the initiative.

“This will be beneficial not only to migratory birds, but also Alabama agricultural producers, landowners, the environment, and economy,” said Commissioner Sparks.

“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 Puckett. “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.

High priority areas in Alabama are Baldwin and Mobile counties. Priority counties are: Autauga, Barbour, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Dallas, Escambia, Greene, Hale, Henry, Houston, Lowndes, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, Washington, and Wilcox. Priority counties for enrolling catfish ponds for conversion to migratory bird habitat under WRP are: Dallas, Greene, Hale, Marengo, Perry, Pickens, and Sumter.

“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 Puckett.

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. Flooded crop fields are particularly well-suited for this initiative, as are catfish farms.

USDA will deliver this initiative with the support from partners in Alabama including Alabama State Soil and Water Conservation Committee, Alabama Association of Conservation Districts, Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Alabama Wildlife Federation, Alabama Farmers Federation, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The signup for the initiative will run from June 28 to August 2, 2010. More information is available on the Alabama NRCS Initiatives  Website.

Interested producers should contact their local USDA Service Center for additional information.  Interested producers should visit their nearest USDA Service Center to determine eligibility. Individuals are not eligible for EQIP until they have completed the Farm Bill eligibility requirements.  Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office or Farm Service Agency Office to begin this process.   NRCS field offices are listed in the telephone directory under U.S. Department of Agriculture or on-line at

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.