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#Fridaysonthefarm: A Place to Call Home

#Fridaysonthefarm: A Place to Call Home Web HeaderStory by Amy Robertson and Justin Fritscher, NRCS; photos by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries  and NRCS; video by Louisiana Farm Bureau's This Week in Louisiana Agriculture

Each Friday, meet farmers, producers and landowners through our #Fridaysonthefarm stories. Visit local farms, ranches, forests and resource areas where NRCS and partners help people help the land.  CLICK HERE to view all #Fridaysonthefarmstories.


In this #Fridaysonthefarm, visit rice and crawfish farms in Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana where four farmers are providing much-needed habitat for the whooping crane, one of the continent's rarest birds.

#Fridaysonthefarm: A Place to Call Home Web Map

 

Meet Alan Hebert, Chad and Rae Hill and Ted Fontenot, all who hail from the heart of southwestern Louisiana, where rice and crawfish farms provide for their families and well as for many others -- including the whooping crane.

Alan Hebert and his neighbors, Chad and Rae Hill, are managing their rice and crawfish fields with NRCS-recommended conservation practices. The result: really good habitat for whooping cranes.

Alan Hebert and his neighbors, Chad and Rae Hill, are managing their rice and crawfish fields with NRCS-recommended conservation practices. The result: really good habitat for whooping cranes. 

To the naked eye, these farms look like a sea of rice reeds and shallow water. But they're stocked full of plants and micro-organisms. For the whooping crane, these wetlands are the Ritz Carlton of habitats.

Mary Guillory, a district conservationist with USDA's NRCS, is the first to point out that these farmers are neighbors, friends and, most importantly, stewards of the land.  

(Left) NRCS District Conservationist Mary Guillory and farmer Ted Fontenot. (Right) A rice and crawfish field in Louisiana.

(Left) NRCS District Conservationist Mary Guillory and farmer Ted Fontenot. (Right) A rice and crawfish field in Louisiana.

Good Stewardship = Good Habitat

It's no accident the cranes have chosen these lands. They're stewardship in managing lands has helped to integrate habitat among working lands.

These farms are using technical and financial assistance through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), a Farm Bill conservation program, to plan and implement conservation activities that help the operations while also providing other benefits, such as dynamite whooping crane habitat.

Through CSP, these farms have created shallow wetlands by holding water on the land when many other farmers drain their fields. These farmers extend the time the water is on the fields by keeping the flooding structures closed. 

“We are a business and have to be profitable, so the programs that we utilize with NRCS help us incorporate conservation practices," Alan said. "It’s important to us because we love this land and want to leave it to our children better than we found it.”

Meet LW1-16 and Her Family

Meet LW1-16. She was the first whooping crane in nearly eight decades to be born in the wild in Louisiana. She just made her first birthday on April 11, 2017.

LW1-16 with her family in April 2016 and December 2016. Photos courtesy of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

LW1-16 with her family in April 2016 and December 2016. Photos courtesy of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. 

Her family, L6-12 and L8-13, found sanctuary on Chad and Rae's farm as well as the other farms in the area.
“When we found out we had a nest, it was exciting," Rae said. "We had whooping cranes on our property before but, we have never had a nest with babies."

“We feel honored that we have been able to experience this with our children,” explained Rae. “The fact that this is the first nest and chicks that have hatched in Louisiana in such a long time and it happened on our land, is really remarkable."

On the Rebound

Whooping cranes have a life span of about 30 years and they mate for life. The birds have remained in the area and have re-nested on a neighboring rice field.

Earlier this year, a nest was discovered on Chad and Rae Hill’s farm, but the eggs did not hatch. The good news is, the birds have re-nested on Ted’s farm and have an egg that is scheduled to hatch mid-May.

Whooping cranes have come a long way! Habitat loss and illegal hunting nearly caused the whooping crane to vanish. In 1941, fewer than two dozen remained.

Sara Zimorski, a wildlife biologist with Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said: Sara Zimorski - Five pairs of cranes nested in 2016, and one pair had a chick. - In 2017, eight pairs have nested including the one on the Ted's farm. - The incubation period is 30 days.

 

Through a concerted effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), NRCS and many other groups, the crane's population is rebounding. Now, they're 600-plus.
 
“Cooperation and support of private land owners and farmers has been essential and is critical to the long term success of the reintroduction of whooping cranes to Louisiana," said Sara Zimorski, a wildlife biologist with LDWF

Visit the LDWF website for more information.

Working Lands for Wildlife

An important piece of that effort is habitat restoration on private lands. With more than 70 percent of the continental U.S. under private ownership, the work of these farmers is critical.

As Troy Mallach, NRCS state biologist in Louisiana puts it: “Private landowners are so important to the recovery of endangered species. Without them, the fact of the matter is we are not going to be able to recover many species, including the whooping crane.

"This is really a great success story of how NRCS working with farmers to help these species and many others find a place to call home."

Establishing a resident population of whooping cranes that live and breed in the wetlands, marshes, and prairies of Louisiana is the overall plan. Partnerships are an integral part of the success moving forward. 

Learn more about the whooping crane recovery in the following video.

Follow the #Fridaysonthefarm and other voluntary conservation stories on @USDA_NRCS Twitter and @USDA Facebook.

View the interactive ESRI storymap of this #Fridaysonthefarm feature .