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News Release

Local Economies and Preserve Farm and Ranch Traditions

Innovative partnership will preserve working lands in North Dakota and protect
 at-risk greater sage-grouse habitat

March 8, 2012

For More Information:
Tanya Koch, Public Affairs, 701-530-2096

BISMARCK, ND March 8, 2012 �Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar today announced a new $33 million partnership to use innovate approaches with farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to restore and protect the habitats for seven specific wildlife species while also helping other vulnerable and game species.

The announcement of the Working Lands for Wildlife partnership follows last week� White House Conference on Conservation that spotlighted community-driven conservation efforts as part of President Obama� America� Great Outdoors Initiative.

�merica's natural resources play a significant role in building a strong and vibrant economy,�said Secretary Vilsack. �gricultural lands with healthy and abundant wildlife habitat support strong incomes for our farmers and ranchers and provide great opportunities for enhancing hunting and fishing, outdoor recreation and wildlife viewing."

�ur goal is to help America� farmers and ranchers continue to work their land, while ensuring the future of these at-risk species,�said Secretary Salazar. �y improving the health and diversity of working landscapes, we can provide better habitat for wildlife and strengthen local economies by protecting the way of life that families in rural America have maintained for decades.�

Under this strategy, Federal, state and local wildlife experts jointly identify at-risk species that would benefit from targeted habitat restoration investments on private lands. Using the best available science, the partners will prioritize restoration actions on a large regional scale to most cost effectively focus assistance. In return for voluntarily making habitat improvements on their lands, the Federal government will provide landowners with regulatory certainty that they will not be asked to take additional conservation actions.

USDA� Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Interior� 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. The goal is to have these tools in place for all priority species within the next seven months, with the intent to continue this targeted species recovery work beyond this year. The seven species initially selected for this expanded campaign are: New England cottontail, bog turtle, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, greater sage-grouse, lesser prairie-chicken and the Southwestern willow flycatcher.

Specifically for North Dakota, funding through the Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative will be used to alleviate threats to sage-grouse habitat while ensuring the sustainability of working farms and ranches. North Dakota landowners can now sign-up to manage and restore high-priority habitats for the greater sage-grouse. Applications within the priority habitat areas of Bowman, Slope, and Golden Valley County will receive highest consideration.

�orth Dakota NRCS is excited to participate in the new Working Lands for Wildlife partnership and we are ready to do our part to help preserve and protect the state� sage-grouse habitats,�said State Conservationist Mary Podoll. �hese funds will help eligible producers utilize working lands conservation practices and assist in managing sage-grouse habitat areas in an economical manner.�

Interested producers and landowners in targeted areas can enroll in the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) on a continuous basis at their local NRCS field office. NRCS funds from WHIP will share the cost of conservation practices with landowners in areas known to support one or more of the selected species. For example, two conservation practices that improve sage-grouse habitat are prescribed grazing and brush management. In the past two years, ranchers implemented grazing systems on 1.3 million acres of large sagebrush to improve cattle forage and increase hiding cover for nesting birds. The additional grass cover is projected to increase sage-grouse populations by 8 to 10 percent.

For 14 years, WHIP has worked to protect, restore or develop fish and wildlife habitat for many species, including those considered at-risk. Since 2003, about $310 million has been committed to 23,000 farmers, ranchers and landowners to provide wildlife treatments on four million acres of private working lands.

Producers interested in learning more about the Working Lands for Wildlife partnership are encourage to visit their local NRCS service center or Applications are accepted on a continuous basis.

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