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News Release

NRCS Announces Innovative Working Lands for Wildlife Partnership to Preserve Working Lands and Conservation Habitat for Wildlife Species Including New England Cottontail Rabbit


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                               CONTACT:  Joseph Bachand
                                                                                                                                                                                                     WHIP Program Manager


NRCS Announces Innovative Working Lands for Wildlife Partnership to Preserve Working Lands and Conserve Habitat for Wildlife Species Including New England Cottontail Rabbit

Applications Will Be Accepted Through April 30, 2012

WARWICK, RI (April 3, 2012) � USDA�s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in partnership with the Department of the Interior�s Fish and Wildlife Service announced funding for the Working Lands for Wildlife partnership which allows farmers and forest landowners to use innovative approaches to restore and protect habitats for wildlife including at-risk species such as the New England cottontail rabbit.

Working Lands for Wildlife is a national effort with $33 million in funding nationwide from the NRCS Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP). The partnership will demonstrate that productive working rural lands are compatible with the needs of sensitive wildlife species.

Nationally, other at risk species include the bog turtle, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, greater sage-grouse, lesser prairie-chicken, and Southwestern willow flycatcher

The New England cottontail rabbit was listed as a candidate species under the Federal Endangered Species Act due to an 86 percent decline in its historic range. The primary threat to the New England cottontail is the loss of habitat through succession. As forests mature, understory thins to such an extent that the habitat is no longer suitable for the New England cottontail. Fragmentation serves to further degrade habitat on a larger scale. Infestation of invasive plants and alterations of hydrology are additional common resource concerns affecting the New England cottontail.

Technical and financial assistance is provided under the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) to develop and improve habitat within designated high-priority habitat areas. Specific practices for habitat improvement include brush management and weed control to manage invasive plants, reestablishment of native woody vegetation, and cutting trees and shrubs to encourage dense forest understory regeneration. According to Gary Casabona, NRCS State Biologist, �The habitat management practices will assist with conservation of the New England cottontail through creation of additional scrub/shrub habitat. The increase in shrub thicket and early successional habitat will greatly benefit an additional 59 species of wildlife in New England such as wild turkeys, woodcock, migratory song birds, and ruffed grouse.�

Interested producers and landowners in Rhode Island along with Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York can sign up on a continuous basis although the application ranking deadline for FY 2012 funds is April 30, 2012. In Rhode Island, interested producers and landowners should visit the Rhode Island NRCS Web site at www.ri.nrcs.usda.govor call 401-822-8848 for additional information.