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NRCS Program Helps Landowners "WHIP" Land Back to Natural State

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NRCS Program Helps Landowners "WHIP" Land Back to Natural State

When Hosea and Debbie Lawrence started clearing cedar trees from their 275 forested acres near Theodosia in Ozark County, the neighbors wondered what was going on.

"They said we were mining the countryside,"Hosea says.

Actually, the Lawrences were taking advantage of the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program (WHIP) to return their land to a more natural condition. Through WHIP, eligible participants develop upland, wetland, riparian, and aquatic habitat areas on their property. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides technical assistance and up to 75 percent of the restoration costs. The program is available throughout Missouri.

"Landowners are using WHIP to restore areas that were once open, but have grown up in cedars,"says Robert DeMoss, NRCS forester. "After the cedars are cut and the cleared areas are burned, we're seeing the land return to the way it was in pre-settlement times."

DeMoss says four species of native, warm-season grasses and more than 40 species of wildflowers have returned to the Lawrences"woods.

"We're just opening up the canopy to encourage native species,"he says. "We have not had to do any seeding. It was just a matter of getting some light on the ground to spur generation."

DeMoss says the forest land in the area changed when settlers began suppressing natural wildfires. Those fires controlled the proliferation of hardwood trees and cedars, and allowed the native pine trees, which are more fire tolerant, to thrive. Without the wildfires, the hardwoods and cedars thrived, especially after most of the mature pines were harvested by loggers in the early 1900s. Pine seedlings then could not establish in the shade of the hardwoods and cedars, which also invaded the glades.

DeMoss says NRCS has been working with the Lawrences for the past four years to restore glades and manage open woodlands. More recently, they have begun working on forest stand improvement. They have replanted short-leaf pines on one area, and utilized WHIP to establish a wildlife watering facility. The overall results of the Lawrences'work to restore and manage declining habitat, combined with similar work by other landowners in Ozark County,  have included a resurgence in populations of turkey, deer, quail, collared lizards and a variety of pollinators.

The Lawrences, who reside at Springfied, say they enjoy the new view of their land in Ozark County.

"I love to come down here and sit on one of those hills and watch deer or turkeys or squirrels, or whatever,"Hosea says.

"I like the flowers,"Debbie adds. "I like the wildlife, too, but I REALLY like the flowers."

The Lawrences say they are thankful for the WHIP funds that allowed them to do the restoration. But they also credit DeMoss, who developed the forest management plan, NRCS District Conservationist April Wilson, who has managed the WHIP contracts, and Nancy Bates, a Missouri Department of Conservation private lands specialist who worked with the controlled-burn plans.

"Anything they said they were going to do, they have done,"Hosea says. "And it has been so helpful when they have come out and gone through the woods with me to point things out."

DeMoss says the Lawrences have been good students.

"I've been excited to just watch their progress,"he says. "They've gone from relying totally on us to the point where they have a good understanding of the natural process."

For more information about WHIP and other NRCS programs and assistance, contact your local NRCS office. Local offices also are listed in telephone directories under "U.S. Government, Department of Agriculture."

For more information on Missouri news items or publications, please call Public Affairs, (573) 876-0911.