NRCS and FWS Reach Historic Agreement to Extend Wildlife Conservation Efforts on Working Agricultural Lands
Regulatory Predictability Will Help Louisiana Farmers and Ranchers Improve Gopher Tortoise Habitat
Holly L. Martien
Alexandria, October 12, 2012 - In September, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dan Ashe announced an agreement that will provide long-term regulatory predictability for up to 30 years to Louisiana’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) initiative. Participants voluntarily implement proven conservation practices designed to protect wildlife habitat on private lands, such as habitat for the gopher tortoise in Tangipahoa, Washington, and St. Helena Parishes in Louisiana.
“This agreement provides Louisiana’s landowners with a way to keep working lands in production while complying with the Endangered Species Act (ESA),” NRCS State Conservationist Kevin Norton said. “It helps our farmers, ranchers and forest landowners rest a little easier knowing their operations are protected in the long term and that they are helping conserve gopher tortoise habitat and essential natural resources.”
Gopher tortoises are an important keystone species to an ecosystem. They spend part of their life in underground burrows in dry, sandy, upland areas, and part of their life above ground in open, upland habitats such as the longleaf pine forests of Tangipahoa, Washington, and St. Tammany Parishes. Their burrows can be up to 30 feet long, and many animals and insects depend on the burrows for safe refuge, including reptiles like snakes, and small mammals like rabbits and mice. If the gopher tortoise disappears from an ecosystem, it causes cascading impacts to other species.
“This agreement provides private landowners with a mechanism to keep working lands in production while complying with the Endangered Species Act,” said Jeffrey Weller, Field Supervisor at the Louisiana Ecological Services Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Lafayette. “It represents a win for the environment, a win for the private landowners and a win for taxpayers, and we are proud to join NRCS in this important effort.”
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 national, state and local entities such as the National Wild Turkey Federation, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and Louisiana’s soil and water conservation districts are partnering to implement WLFW.
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.
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 please visit Louisiana Working Lands for Wildlife webpage.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps America’s farmers and ranchers conserve the Nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment.
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