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News Release

USDA to Help Farmers and Ranchers Expand Habitat for Migrating Birds

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

 LITTLE ROCK, ARK., June 28, 2010 – State Conservationist Mike Sullivan 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. Sullivan estimates Arkansas will receive $3.3 million for the initiative.

USDA will use the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and Wetlands Reserve Program, administered by NRCS, and 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 farms.

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.

“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 Sullivan. “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 Arkansas are in Arkansas, Ashley, Chicot, Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Cross, Desha, Drew, Greene, Independence, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lawrence, Lee, Lincoln, Little River, Lonoke, Miller, Mississippi, Monroe, Phillips, Poinsett, Prairie, Pulaski, Randolph, St. Francis, White and Woodruff counties. 

“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 Sullivan.

USDA will deliver this initiative with the support from partners in Arkansas including Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and others.

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.nrcs.usda.gov/news/nrcs_migratory_birds.html.