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2006 Delaware WHIP Implementation Plan

WILDLIFE HABITAT INCENTIVE PROGRAM (WHIP)

DELAWARE IMPLEMENTATION PLAN

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WHIP - Delaware Implementation Plan  (52 KB)

State WHIP plans are developed at least every five years, with updates as needed, to ensure that resources are targeted to the needs of the highest priority wildlife habitats.

STATE PROGRAM OBJECTIVES

The broad objectives of WHIP in Delaware are to provide assistance to participants for the protection, restoration or enhancement of upland wildlife habitat, wetland wildlife habits, threatened and endangered species, fisheries, and other types of habitat. This effort is accomplished while educating and changing public attitudes toward wildlife habitat management and land stewardship.

Meeting the objectives of this program required implementation of a variety of conservation practices which benefit many wildlife and fish species. Although the objectives of the Delaware WHIP program target specific habitat types for restoration, other habitat types may also be included in WHIP plans where it meets state and national priorities. All WHIP objectives and priorities are presented to the State Technical Committee for input and concurrence.

NATIONAL AND STATE WILDLIFE PRIORITIES

WHIP National Priorities

In order to provide direction to the state and local levels for implementing WHIP to achieve the objectives, NRCS established the following national priorities:

  • Promote the restoration of declining or important native wildlife habitat.
  • Protect, restore, develop, or enhance wildlife habitat of at-risk species (candidate species, and state and federally listed threatened and endangered species).
  • Reduce the impacts of invasive species on wildlife habitat.
  • Protect, restore, develop, or enhance declining or important aquatic wildlife species’ habitats.

Priorities have been established to address the identified state objectives.

State Priorities

To avoid duplicating the efforts of other USDA programs, emphasis is placed on the use of WHIP-funded practices in situations where USDA funding is not otherwise available or has been very limited. WHIP works well to complement other USDA programs such as EQIP, CRP, and WRP, which provide erosion control, water quality, and wildlife benefits.

WHIP funding is available statewide, but restoration efforts are especially promoted in locations where state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, and local partners have already identified specific restoration needs.

Specific priorities of the WHIP Program in Delaware are to:

Priority 1. Control of invasive species.

Rationale:

Within the last six decades, Phragmites australis has spread rapidly in Delaware tidal wetlands.
One of the major causes of tidal wetland degradation, especially in fresh or brackish water areas of Delaware, has been the disruption of natural wetland hydrology and topography that has allowed phragmites (common reed) invasions to become monocultures. It has been recently confirmed that inadvertent introductions from Europe over the past 100+ years of a more aggressive strain of phragmites has been the primary contributory factor to this species’ rapid spread, particularly since only a few of the numerous European insect herbivores that feed upon phragmites have made the trans-Atlantic trip.

This aggressively-growing European strain of phragmites has displaced the less aggressive native variety, and has out competed natural wetland vegetation communities thereby creating monotypic stands that are largely impenetrable to most fish and wildlife, and therefore of marginal value to many marsh dependent species. Besides out competing beneficial plant species and reducing habitat heterogeneity, this grass also usurps open-water habitats while providing little nutritive value to fish and wildlife in live or detritus forms. It is estimated that about 10-15% of Delaware’s coastal wetlands are now infested with tall, dense stands of phragmites, and that about 1/3 of the State’s coastal marsh acreage has phragmites occurrence of some description, in contrast to only a few percent 50 years ago. The estimate of acreage of phragmites in the state is over 20,000 acres.

A unique partnership was formed earlier this year when DNREC – Division of Fish and Wildlife and the NRCS teamed up to offer cost-share assistance to improve wildlife habitat in private wetlands that have been degraded by the pesky plant, phragmites.

The acreage will be treated for a minimum of three consecutive years since phragmites is both fast growing and extremely hardy with an extensive root system. It has taken over large areas of Delaware wetlands by displacing native plants that provide better wildlife food and cover. Its extensive root system holds dormant reeds in place during the winter, which causes a fire hazard.

Priority 2. Restore seasonal, shallow water habitat for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds.

Rationale:

Extensive conversion of wetlands to other uses has occurred since the European settlement of Delaware in the 1600s. Many of Delaware’s wetlands were seasonally inundated shallow water areas which provided resting and feeding habitat for migratory birds from late fall through spring. It is estimated that approximately half of these wetlands have been drained for agricultural production or filled for residential and commercial development. Protection, restoration, and enhancement of waterfowl habitats, including seasonal flooding of active cropland, are identified priorities of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Region 5.

Throughout the state, there are numerous former wetland areas within agricultural fields which are potential sites to recreate s seasonally ponded depressions to provide spring and fall migratory habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds. Existing cost-sharing programs such as USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, are able to provide funding for wetland restoration. However, many farmers are not willing to take cropland areas out of production, as these programs require. Landowners have expressed a strong interest in a cost-share program which would allow them to restore seasonal shallow water areas, while continuing to farm these areas during the growing season.

Priority 3. Restore or enhance declining or important aquatic wildlife species habitats.

Rational:

Delaware has several programs that address upland and wetland habitat restoration, including CRP/CREP, WRP, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, and the Delaware Landowner Incentive Program, but have a limited focus on aquatic resources due to lack of funding. The WHIP program in Delaware has been able to provide cost-share to special projects that has greatly accelerated the time frame to restore valuable habitats.

Three special projects currently funded are restoring eelgrass to the Inland Bays, restoring historic oyster beds in the Delaware River, and restoring stream habitat by dam removal on the Brandywine River to improve fisheries and water quality.

PARTNERSHIP INVOLVEMENT

Government agencies.

NRCS in Delaware has had a longstanding statewide partnership with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources (DNREC) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to develop and implement resource management plans on private lands. The partner agencies have worked successfully together to combine cost-sharing programs from a variety of federal, state, and private funding sources in order to meet the resource management needs of landowners.

Delaware DNREC and USFWS provided technical assistance to assist participants with development and implementation of habitat restoration plans, installation of practices, operation and maintenance, follow-up, and outreach to potential customers.

APPLICATION RANKING CRITERIA

Ranking of projects will be completed using the National WHIP ranking tool.

Environmental considerations are as follows:

  • Wildlife Access: Priority is given for proximity of the WHIP site to permanently protected conservation areas, as well as to other non-protected areas (such as forestland, streams, or wetlands) which can provide direct wildlife access to the WHIP site. Sites contiguous to permanently protected areas are ranked higher.
  • Size of Project: Priority is given for restoring significant amounts of targeted habitats. Plans which include larger amounts of habitat restoration are ranked higher.
  • Habitat Evaluation Index (HEI) Increase: Priority is given to projects which will provide a significant increase in habitat values. Plans which will result in larger increases in habitat function values, as measured by using the wildlife habitat evaluation procedure, are ranked higher.
CRITERAL FOR MEASURING PROGRAM SUCCESS

Although environmental monitoring of individual projects is desirable, NRCS does not have the staffing to support such an effort. Therefore, NRCS must rely on established long term monitoring efforts or on the efforts of partners to document whether program implementation is benefiting intended species, i.e., The North American Breeding Bird Survey or the Amphibian Survey. NRCS ranking criteria are designed to ensure that the projects with the highest benefits are selected for funding. The WHIP practice requirements have also been developed to ensure that wildlife criteria are being met or exceed.

It is essential that selected projects be monitored to evaluate success. The phragmites, eelgrass, oyster restoration, and river restoration projects all have detailed monitoring plans in place to evaluate the effectiveness of the projects.

NRCS state office personnel conduct annual field office reviews. Field offices conduct annual contract reviews to ensure programs and conservation technical assistance are achieving their intended purpose and conservation practices are properly applied and maintained. Also, feedback from field staff, partners, and landowners are used to determine if the program is successful or where improvements can be made.

NRCS management tools, including Protracts and Performance Results System (PRS), are used to evaluate program implementation, including timely installation of practices and use of contracted funds.

More recently, the DNREC Watershed Assessment Branch has been conducting rapid biological assessments on restored, created and enhanced wetlands that were funded through the CREP and WHIP programs.