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Farm Bill program helps landowner nurture healthy forest, help wildlife

By Ciji Taylor

NRCS Supervisory District Conservationist Kelvin Jackson worked with Variano “Chino” Suarez on improving forested lands with conservation programs

NRCS Supervisory District Conservationist Kelvin Jackson worked with Variano “Chino” Suarez on improving forested lands with conservation programs.

With a little help from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Variano “Chino” Suarez was able to use prescribed burning and other conservation efforts to greatly improve his forested land in Mississippi.

Through NRCS conservation programs, Suarez and others are able to make improvements on private lands.

The recently passed 2014 Farm Bill continues to provide financial and technical assistance for farmers, ranchers and forest managers wanting to put conservation to work on their land through the NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Under the new bill, EQIP absorbed the former Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program. The WHIP goals of enhancing wildlife habitat are now part of EQIP.

Suarez used both EQIP and WHIP to improve his land. EQIP aims to help people improve water and air quality, conserve water, reduce soil erosion and sedimentation and improve or create wildlife habitat for at-risk species.

“Adding WHIP into EQIP allows one program to address multiple resource concerns, including conservation and wildlife enhancement, while reducing the cumbersome process of ranking multiple applications under multiple conservation programs,” said Kelvin Jackson, NRCS supervisory district conservationist in Mississippi.

Jackson worked with Suarez to put conservation practices on his forestlands in the red clay hills of eastern Mississippi. He enrolled 40 acres in EQIP, which helped him plant trees and start prescribed burns to put his forests on a healthier track. These practices improve the forest by reducing weedy vegetation and allowing the trees to grow more quickly, developing robust understory plants and reducing wildfires.

An avid outdoorsman, Suarez later also used NRCS programs to re-establish pine trees on a portion of his property that had been clear-cut by a previous owner. These practices will help bring the land back to its natural state and enhance the habitat for wildlife on his property.

Suarez said he expects to end up with a forest that has more marketable trees, more food for wildlife and better resiliency to insects and invasive species. He said if he manages his forest properly, it will not only provide him benefits from timber sales after selective harvests, but it also can help boost higher populations of wildlife.

Through the assistance of Farm Bill programs, Suarez and his family will be able to enjoy a beautiful, healthy and productive environment for generations to come.

Suarez said he is always appreciative of his visits to his woods, whether it’s to hunt, relax on the back porch of his cabin or spend time with his family. As he says, sometimes you need to “get lost in the woods.”

To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or