Nearly 70 percent of the nation’s fish and wildlife habitat is found on private lands, making conservation efforts on farms, ranches and forests crucial to many species. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to help those who own and manage private lands restore and protect habitat. This voluntary conservation work is good for fish and wildlife while also boosting the resiliency of and production on agricultural working lands.
Habitat Restoration Tools through the Farm Bill
NRCS administers a number of Farm Bill conservation programs that aid habitat restoration and protection, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP).
Additionally, NRCS uses targeted landscape-level initiatives to accelerate conservation work where it can net the biggest impacts. The Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) targets conservation for seven target species that are declining, listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) or candidates for listing. Not only does this partnership provide assistance, it also provides predictability under the ESA to those who maintain conservation practices and systems for up to 30 years.
Private Lands Conservation Works
Efforts by farmers, ranchers and forest managers are benefitting wildlife across the country. For example, in 2015, FWS determined listing under the ESA was not needed for two WLFW target species, the greater sage-grouse and New England cottontail, in part because of the habitat restoration efforts on private lands. Also, in 2015, FWS delisted the Oregon chub, the first fish in U.S. history to be removed from the endangered species list not because it went extinct but because the fish recovered.
Benefits Extend to Other Species
These efforts not only benefit the target species but others that share the habitat. For example, when ranchers restore sagebrush-steppe habitat for sage grouse, many others species – like mule deer and songbirds – benefit. Data released in 2015 showed two sagebrush songbirds, the green-tailed towhee and Brewer’s sparrow, saw significant population increases in places where habitat was restored.
Through WLFW, NRCS is working with FWS to extend predictability to cover all species that benefit from habitat restoration work. In 2015, the two agencies collaborated on an updated biological opinion, which expanded predictability for landowners who restore riparian areas for the Southwestern willow flycatcher to 83 additional species.