Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative
Conservation efforts on private lands play a critical role in providing habitat for a variety of wildlife species, including migratory birds. NRCS works with agricultural producers to create and enhance habitat for wetland-dependent migratory birds. Through a number of Farm Bill conservation programs, producers can flood farm fields to create temporary habitat, or they can place lands under a conservation easement, restoring and protecting wetland habitat for the long term.
These conservation efforts are especially important in a time of need, such as following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. After the spill, NRCS launched the former Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI) to help landowners create more than 470,000 acres of alternative habitat along the Mississippi River Flyway.
Millions of migratory birds, including ducks, geese, and shorebirds travel the Mississippi Flyway each year to winter in Gulf of Mexico-area ecosystems, or in the case of many shorebirds, Central and South America. A 2015 study released by Mississippi State University showed that wetlands created and enhanced by producers through MBHI provided migration and winter habitat for many more birds than unmanaged sites.
What Conservation Efforts to Benefit Migratory Birds Are Underway?
While MBHI was a three-year effort, it demonstrated the potential for agricultural lands to remain productive and provide much needed habitat for wildlife. NRCS continues to work with producers in key areas across the country to restore and protect habitat for migratory birds. Several other efforts used this concept, such as the Waterbird Habitat Enhancement Program (WHEP) and the Northern Plains – Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (NP-MBHI)
Through WHEP, NRCS worked with producers in the Sacramento River Delta to provide and maintain shallow water wetlands, mudflats and nesting areas for seasonal or year-round shorebirds, wading birds, and waterfowl. WHEP also helped producers provide nesting and roost structures for certain non-waterbird species, such as songbirds and raptors. Currently, a project through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), is continuing habitat restoration efforts in this region.
Through NP-MBHI, NRCS works with producers in the Prairie Pothole Region to provide food and critical habitat for bird populations. This region, which includes Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, is home to 50 percent of the nation’s migratory birds.
How Do These Conservation Efforts Benefit Producers?
Financial assistance through these efforts helps producers better manage their lands to provide quality wildlife habitat on working lands, providing recreational opportunities like hunting and bird watching. Meanwhile, easements provide producers with a source of income, while helping fund restoration efforts that improve the landscape for wildlife habitat and recreation.
How Do These Conservation Efforts Benefit the Public?
These conservation efforts provide many benefits to the public, such as enhancing wildlife habitat, storing water, mitigating against floods and sequestering carbon. They also help ensure healthy populations of a variety of waterfowl and shorebirds, benefitting sportsmen and birdwatchers, and provide habitat for a variety of other species.
In an effort to best restore habitat for migratory birds, NRCS collaborates with producers, government agencies, non-government organizations and others. Opportunities through RCPP and the Conservation Innovation Grant program help NRCS leverage additional conservation investments.