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Instinctual journey will have some migratory birds landing in expanded habitat

Instinctual journey will have some migratory birds landing in expanded habitat

Story by Beverly Moseley

Almost three months have passed since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil has reached some coastal beaches and marshes on the Gulf, adversely affecting the habitat for coastal wildlife.

These coastal areas will soon be the destination of more than 50 million migratory birds that will instinctively make their annual journey through the central flyway zone to the Gulf region.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched the first ever Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative in an effort to develop or enhance these coastal habitat areas for migrating populations. Through this initiative, participating farmers will be providing additional habitat suitable for birds to rest, feed and roost.

�People forget about the migratory birds that come in the fall and the spring and it�s going to affect them,� said James Gentz, who farms rice in Jefferson County, Texas, and operates Gentz Cattle Company. �To try and help those particular animals is something that I think all us farmers should do and this is a good program to allow that to happen.�

Gentz enrolled more than 700 acres into the initiative, administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which utilizes existing USDA Farm Bill programs. NRCS will cost-share an estimated 75 percent of the costs for Gentz to flood his fallow rice fields.

Pumping water to flood fallow fields is a major expense for farmers. Gentz said even though his farm has an efficient water pumping station, it will be costly. He estimates that it will cost about $50 an acre this year to flood. This figure also takes into account items such as pump maintenance. It will take a minimum of two weeks to flood the 700 acres, he said.

Years of working together has forged a strong relationship between Gentz and NRCS field staff in Beaumont. Today, they continue to work side-by-side on accomplishing the initiative�s objectives.

�He�s progressive in what he�s thinking about doing and how he does it. He is always looking ahead to something new,� said Tom Bresee, a NRCS civil engineering technician in Beaumont.

One conservation practice that Gentz has worked with NRCS on is laser leveling of his rice fields. A benefit of this practice is more uniform distribution of water throughout rice fields. Gentz will be able to evenly distribute and customize water levels when flooding fallow fields, while also reducing the flooding time and associated costs.

�You can customize the water to whatever level you want,� Bresee said. �It�s set up so that this is an easy place to flood, because everything is already set up for it.�

Gentz looks forward to when rice harvest is over and all his fallow fields are flooded. Some of his fields will be flooded until the end of March when the initiative ends. During that time, Gentz said he looks forward to managing the waterfowl and shorebird habitat, while riding the levees and monitoring bird sightings and numbers.

�I�m hoping we�ll be getting a lot of migratory ducks and birds out here,� he said.

James Gentz says it can be costly to pump water onto fallow fields, however this water pumping station should be cost-efficient when flooding the more than 700 acres of fallow fields he enrolled into the USDA-NRCS Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative. James Gentz, (right), who farms rice in Jefferson County, Texas, and operates Gentz Cattle Company and Tom Bresee, (left), NRCS civil engineering technician in Beaumont, wade into growing rice fields to assess plant quality. When harvested, Gentz will flood this field to create suitable habitat for migrating bird populations.

James Gentz says it can be costly to pump water onto fallow fields, however this water pumping station should be cost-efficient when flooding the more than 700 acres of fallow fields he enrolled into the USDA-NRCS Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative.

James Gentz, (right), who farms rice in Jefferson County, Texas, and operates Gentz Cattle Company and Tom Bresee, (left), NRCS civil engineering technician in Beaumont, wade into growing rice fields to assess plant quality. When harvested, Gentz will flood this field to create suitable habitat for migrating bird populations.

James Gentz, who farms rice in Jefferson County, Texas, checks out a fallow rice field that is part of the more than 700 acres he enrolled into the first-ever USDA-NRCS Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative. Smart Weed is one plant that is abundant in Gentz�s fallow fields. Ducks and other waterfowl benefit from consuming the invertebrates that the Smart Weed provides food and habitat. Ducks also consume the seeds of Smart Weed.James Gentz, who farms rice in Jefferson County, Texas, checks out a fallow rice field that is part of the more than 700 acres he enrolled into the first-ever USDA-NRCS Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative. Smart Weed is one plant that is abundant in Gentz�s fallow fields. Ducks and other waterfowl benefit from consuming the invertebrates that the Smart Weed provides food and habitat. Ducks also consume the seeds of Smart Weed.

James Gentz, who farms rice in Jefferson County, Texas, checks out a fallow rice field that is part of the more than 700 acres he enrolled into the first-ever USDA-NRCS Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative. Smart Weed is one plant that is abundant in Gentz�s fallow fields. Ducks and other waterfowl benefit from consuming the invertebrates that the Smart Weed provides food and habitat. Ducks also consume the seeds of Smart Weed.