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News Release

NRCS Offers Assistance to Landowners for Protecting and Improving Habitat for Gopher Tortoise in Nine South Carolina Counties

COLUMBIA, January 10, 2014—State Conservationist Ann English announced today that financial assistance is available to eligible farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to assist them in implementing innovative approaches to restore and protect wildlife habitat which will benefit the gopher tortoise. There are seven identified at-risk or vulnerable species across the nation, and in South Carolina the target species is the gopher tortoise. Eligible counties include Jasper, Beaufort, Hampton, Allendale, Aiken, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton and Dorchester. Applications must be submitted by February 21, 2014.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will jointly prepare species recovery tools such as informal agreements, safe harbor agreements and habitat conservation plans to provide regulatory certainty to landowners.

This assistance is available through a Working Lands for Wildlife partnership which was developed at the White House Conference on Conservation that spotlighted community-driven conservation efforts as part of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors Initiative.

Historically, more than 90 million acres of what is now the southeastern United States were covered by longleaf pine savanna; today, only 3.4 million acres remain and most are fragmented and in poor condition. Longleaf pine forests are some of the world's most biologically diverse ecosystems, and provide critical habitat for 29 threatened and endangered species, including the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). Gopher tortoise requires deep, well drained soils and an open understory that provides open sunny sites for nesting. Its burrows provide vital habitat and shelter for manyendangered species. More than eighty percent of gopher tortoise habitat is in private or corporate ownership. You can learn more about the gopher tortoise by visiting www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/national/programs/?cid=stelprdb1047006.  

NRCS funds from the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) will share the cost of conservation practices with landowners in areas known to support one or more of the selected species. This program protects, restores or develops fish and wildlife habitat for many species, including those considered at-risk. Contact your local USDA Service Center or visit www.sc.nrcs.usda.gov for more information.